Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata)

Chocolate Vine, Five Leaf Akebia, Five-leaf Chocolate Vine, Raisin Vine

Akebia quinata, also known as the chocolate vine or simply the akebia, is a very popular, decorative climbing plant. Here is everything you need to know about planting and caring for the perennial chocolate vine.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Akebia quinata, commonly known as chocolate vine, five-leaf chocolate vine, or five-leaf akebia, is a shrub that is native to Japan, China and Korea, commonly used as an ornamental / edible plant in the United States and Europe In its native habitat, it is often found on hills, in hedges, on trees, along forest edges and streams, and on mountainous slopes.

Akebia comes from the Japanese vernacular name, akebi. Akebi was originally written as 開あけ実び derived from akeru (開ける, “to open”) and mi (実, “fruit”), due to how its fruit splits open when ripe.

Quinata means ‘divided into five’ and is presumably a reference to its lobed leaves.

Akebia quinata is a climbing evergreen shrub that grows to 10 m (30 ft) or more in height and has palmately compound leaves with five elliptic or obovate leaflets that are notched at the tip. The woody stems are grayish-brown with lenticels. The flowers are clustered in racemes and are chocolate-scented, with three or four sepals. The fruits are sausage-shaped pods which contain edible pulp. The gelatinous placentation contains seeds surrounded with white pulp that has a sweet flavor.

Unless you are growing chocolate vine as a ground cover, it will need a sturdy structure to support it as it climbs. If you wish to harvest the fruits of the vine, plan to plant at least two vines to increase the chances of pollination and fruiting.

Akebia prefers sandy soils with good drainage, and regular watering, though it is drought resistant. In some areas the plant is an invasive species to be avoided. This species is considered hardy in all of the United Kingdom and Europe (down to -15 to -20 °C). In the US, it is suitable for hardiness zones 4–9.

Akebia quinata, and all Akebia species for that matter, will not produce fruit if not pollinated by a genetically different plant (e.g., male flowers from the mother plant or the male flowers from a clone of the mother plant will not be able to pollinate the female flowers). Two separate varieties or two Akebia grown from separate seeds are needed to produce sausage-like fruits.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Chocolate vine is very shade tolerant and will grow well in covered woodland settings. That being said, the best flowering and fruiting will occur when the plant is located in full sun, so if that is your priority, plant the vine somewhere where you can ensure it gets at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Temperature and Humidity

Chocolate vine does best in moderate temperatures between 55 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In the harsh winter weather, the vine may lose its leaves but will regrow them in the spring. While not the ideal choice for humid environments, the vine does tolerate some humidity in the air.

Watering

Provide weekly watering until vines are established, then water during periods of drought so that plants get at least one inch of water per week. Chocolate vine is mildly tolerant of drought-like conditions, so you can wait until the top inch or two of the soil is dry before watering.

Soil

While chocolate vine will grow successfully in a variety of different soil compositions, the ideal blend is a mixture of sand and loam with a high percentage of organic matter. Proper drainage is also essential for the vine.

Fertilizing

Chocolate vine is a light feeder and doesn’t require supplemental flower fertilizer. You can provide trace nutrients for vines growing in poor soil by mulching with compost or well-rotted manure. Generally, the vine will grow prolifically without much intervention.

Pruning

Because of chocolate vine’s vigorous growth habit, frequent pruning is required to keep it in check. Many gardeners prune chocolate vine back to ground level in late winter to keep it in check, but you can also lightly prune the vine throughout the season to help it look tidy after flowering. Depending on the thickness of the vine you can use pruners or shears, cutting back the vine to the desired length and snipping around 1/4-inch above a leaf or leaf node.

Propagation

If you’re looking to add to the chocolate vine population in your landscape, you can propagate the vine through softwood cuttings if you already have one plant. Here’s how:

  • Using clean shears or pruners, take a cutting at least 6 inches long in spring. The cutting should be taken from the new spring growth on a vine that has already been established and bloomed for at least a year.
  • Plant the cuttings in a small pot filled with pre-moistened fine compost or another lightweight planting medium.
  • Place the pot in a humid and warm spot until the cuttings root in about two to three weeks. You can check the progress of the developing roots by giving the cutting a gentle tug—if you feel a slight resistance, that’s a good indication that roots are beginning to take hold.
  • Once roots are established, replant the cutting in its permanent location. Do your best not to disturb the roots after that fact, as it may cause damage to the plant.

III. Types of Chocolate Vine

There are several different varieties of chocolate vine available, most of which differ only in their flower and foliage appearance. Some of the most popular varietals include:

  • Akebia quinata ‘Alba’: A varietal with pale green stems and small white flowers. In cooler climates, the leaves will turn bright yellow in the fall.
  • Akebia quinata ‘Purple Bouquet’: This common varietal is desirable primarily because of its compact size, which will grow to be about half the height of other varieties. It boasts the same chocolate-scented deep purple flowers the species is typically associated with.
  • Akebia quinata ‘Rosea’: The mauve-y pink flowers on this varietal are paler than typical, helping them to stand out against the dark foliage.
  • Akebia quinata ‘Variegata’: This unique varietal boasts splashes of white and green on its foliage, which make for an attractive backdrop for pink-purple blossoms.

IV. How to Get Chocolate Vine to Bloom

The most important factor when it comes to a successfully blooming chocolate vine is ample sunlight. If the vine is growing in a woodland environment or is shaded the majority of the day by larger trees or structures, you will have a difficult time getting it to bloom.

In addition to lots of sunlight, you’ll want to make sure your chocolate vine gets the right nutrients. Phosphorus is also important to a successfully blooming chocolate vine. If you think your soil may lack this nutrient, you can fertilize your plant with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer blend or add some bone meal to your soil and see if that helps.

V. Uses and Benefits 

  • Culinary uses

The fruit contains a sweet soft pulp resembling a white dragon fruit, eaten primarily in Japan as a seasonal delicacy. The rind, with a slight bitter taste, is used as vegetable, stuffed with ground meat and deep-fried.

Often eaten fresh, the Akebia fruit is best after it fully opens naturally on the vine. the seeds are very bitter and can even lead to throat irritation if chewed. They are discarded by spitting out or simply swallowing them whole. The fruit can be processed into jams, jellies, drinks and even added to smoothies or ice-creams.

  • Ornamental uses

Akebia quinata is often grown as an ornamental plant in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. It is primarily used to cover less attractive spots on the sides of businesses or a ground cover to prevent erosion of hills. The flowers bloom generally in April – May and produce a “chocolatey” aroma which is often compared to vanilla or sometimes nutmeg rather than chocolate.

Various breeders of the plant have created new subspecies with their own unique colored flowers. One of these is the “Silver Bells” Akebia which has silvery white flowers with purple stamen. (see photo in Gallery)

  • Medicinal uses

Akebia quinata consumption has been shown in-vitro to prevent obesity and reduce fat accumulation effectively as well as lower cholesterol levels present in the blood of rodents. Though not commonly known by the public because of the rarity of the fruit, this may be hailed as an “herbal medicine” for weight loss in the future.

Akebia also has the ability to regulate chemicals in the kidneys, liver and cardiovascular system making it a healthy food if regularly consumed.

The stem contains approximately 30% potassium salts thus causing a diuretic action.

The fruit is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat urinary tract infections, scanty lactation, and rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Other uses

Traditionally, the vines have been used for basket-weaving which may help reduce the spread of this plant in the Eastern United States.

The dried rinds have been used in Japanese fertility festivals and due to their vulva-like appearance it is thought to increase the fertility of women, although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata) Details

Common name Chocolate Vine, Five Leaf Akebia, Five-leaf Chocolate Vine, Raisin Vine
Botanical name Akebia quinata
Plant type Edible
Hardiness zone 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Sunlight Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Brown/Copper
Leaf color Blue