People living close to coastal gullies sometimes express concern about vines growing over native trees and shrubs and potentially smothering them. In some cases these vines will be exotic plants escaped from nearby gardens, but often they are native species.
Native vines are not usually a cause for concern. They often become dominant in moist gully situations when the tree canopy is opened up. This might happen naturally if a large tree falls over, or if a fire defoliates the trees in the gully. If the gully contains rainforest trees, and is swept by a hot fire, the trees may die, or take a very long time to recover from buds under the bark. Some rainforest trees are killed outright by fire but others can re-sprout the same as eucalypts, but it usually takes them a lot longer to recover. In the meantime the vines, which re-sprout from the roots, can put on prolific growth and come to dominate the gully for a time.
These days a more common cause of opening of the tree canopy is the development of the area surrounding the gully for housing, or road construction through the gully.
This section illustrates all of the common native vines occurring on the south coast.
VINES WITH COMPOUND LEAVES
These species have leaves composed of from three to seven leaflets.
Native grape or water vine (Cissus
hypoglauca) is the vine which most frequently behaves in a rampant fashion.
Its leaves consist of five leaflets radiating more or less symmetrically from
a central point. Each leaflet is glossy, with or without a few teeth on the
margin, and with a whitish underside. Opposite each leaf is either a tendril,
for climbing, or a compact cluster of yellow flowers. The fruits are round,
black and only slightly grape-like.
Look-alikes: Another native vine with five leaflets is slender grape (Cayratia clematidea), which does not occur south of Nowra. It has toothed leaflets and the lower two on each side share a common leaf stalk.
Bush lawyer (Rubus nebulosus) also has five leaflets. It is a large thorny climber found in rainforests north from Batemans Bay.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is a weed with five leaflets, which also has thorns on the stems, leaflet stalks and along the veins on the leaf undersides.
The native small-leaved bramble (Rubus parvifolius) may have three or five leaflets.
Mile-a-minute or coastal morning glory (Ipomoea cairica) is a weed with deeply lobed leaves which may appear to consist of five to seven leaflets, but each "leaflet" does not have a separate stalk. It has large pink to mauve trumpet-shaped flowers.
The weedy blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) has similar leaves to mile-a-minute with 5-7 lobes, but is distinguished by having a pair of small leafy flaps (stipules) at the point where the leaf stalk joins the stem.
Clematis, headache vine or old manís beard (Clematis aristata and Clematis glycinoides) both have three leaflets on long stalks. Those of Clematis aristata are thicker textured and more likely to have toothed edges. Clematis glycinoides leaves are very thin textured, and its flowers are also slightly smaller than those of C. aristata. Both have flowers with four long narrow widely separated cream petals, which cover the plant thickly in early spring. The dark brown seeds which follow are attached to a central receptacle, with a fluffy plume at the other end which helps them to disperse on the wind. Both clematis species climb by twining their leaf stalks around small branches or other supports. Clematis seedlings consist of only a single leaflet with silvery mottling, usually toothed. Clematis is known to have been responsible for poisoning calves and goats.
Look-alikes: Most other vines with three leaflets are in the pea family. The native running postman (Kennedia rubicunda) seldom gets very big. It has blunt-tipped leaflets, red flowers and hairy brown flat pea-like pods. The weed Dolichos pea (Dipogon lignosus) has pointy-tipped leaflets, pink or mauve flowers and flat green hairless pods. It can be large and rampant in its growth.
Wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana) has leaves with three to seven leaflets. Young plants have rather ferny looking leaves with numerous small, almost circular leaflets with toothed edges. Flowers are tubular, cream, with brown or purple speckles in the throat, in large hanging clusters, borne in spring. In drier bush wonga vine is often only a small plant, but in rainforest it can become massive, with trunks to 20cm or so thick which loop through the trees. The rest of the plant can be hard to see though, as the leaves are all up in the tree canopy.
VINES WITH SIMPLE LEAVES
The following species have simple, undivided leaves. When trying to identify these species, note whether the leaves are arranged opposite each other on the stems, or alternately along the stem. Are the leaves toothed around the edges or smooth-edged? Oval or heart-shaped? Check how the plant climbs. Does it have tendrils (like a grape), cling to bark by aerial roots, or twine the whole stem around its supports? Check the stems for the presence of lenticels, small glands which can be felt as a roughness if the stem is scraped with a fingernail. Pull off a leaf and see whether the plant exudes a milky or a clear sap, or none.
Milk vine (Marsdenia rostrata) is very common. It has opposite oval leaves with a glossy surface, smooth edges and a paler green underside. It produces milky sap, and climbs by twining. The flowers are small and yellow, in clusters, and followed by cigar shaped long green pods which split to release seeds with a feathery attachment which helps them disperse on the wind. This vine often spreads into quite dry bush in the absence of fire. It has been known to poison calves. A less common species is yellow milk vine (Marsdenia flavescens), which has narrower leaves with a blunt tip and a yellow-green furry leaf underside, and milky sap.
Look-alikes: the native common silkpod (see below) and the weed moth plant (Araujia sericifera), which has larger white flowers, choko-shaped seed capsules and a white underside to the leaf.
Common silkpod (Parsonsia straminea) is also common north from Bega, but is more restricted in habitat, usually favouring wet sites such as casuarina or paperbark forests around coastal lagoons. It has opposite leaves with a yellow-green hairless underside, clear yellow sap, small yellow flowers and cigar-shaped pods. Young silkpod plants are very different from mature ones. They climb up tree trunks initially using aerial roots like the weed, English ivy (Hedera helix), but can be distinguished from it by the non-lobed leaves. Mature silkpod plants lose this habit and climb by twining.
Look-alikes: milk vine (above) and the weed moth plant.
Gum vine (Aphanopetalum resinosum) is common on rainforest margins and in wet gullies. It has opposite toothed leaves which are hairless and glossy. New growth is reddish. The flowers are in clusters with four narrow green sepals but only microscopic petals. The stems are covered in small raised lenticels, making them rough to the touch.
Look-alikes: Staff climber (Celastrus australis) has very similar leaves, which are alternate rather than opposite. It also has the lenticels on the stems. It produces terminal clusters of small yellow-green flowers followed by bunches of small (3-5mm) orange capsules which split to reveal red seeds.
is a common small native climber which does not form a woody stem. It has
opposite leaves which are broad oval in shape. It very seldom flowers or produces
seed. The flowers are small and deep maroon in colour. It sprawls over the ground
and climbs for short distances into shrubs.
Jasmine morinda (Morinda jasminoides) is a common vine of rainforest and wet gullies, with opposite, glossy, oval, thin-textured leaves which are a bright light green, and quite small (3-5cm long). The fruits are a lumpy orange berry which is composed of several fused segments, on which the lines of fusion can be seen.
Kangaroo grape (Cissus
antarctica) is more common in the northern part of the region, and does
not occur south of about Bega. It has toothed simple leaves, with a tendril
or a flower cluster opposite. The underside of the leaves, and the new growth,
is densely hairy with rusty coloured hairs. Berries are black.
Wait-a-while (Smilax australis) has alternate, oval leaves which are tough and leathery, with a tendril opposite each leaf. The leaves have parallel veins rather than the usual arrangement of branching from a central mid-vein. Its most recognisable feature are the small backward-pointing prickles on the wiry stems, which can make progress through wet gullies difficult at times. It produces dull black berries.
Look-alikes: Native sarsaparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) is a similar but more delicate plant which lacks the prickles. Its leaves have a greyish underside and parallel veins. It also has tendrils and fruits are a glossy black berry.
White supplejack (Ripogonum album) has leaves with parallel veins, but they are glossy and less leathery than those of wait-a-while. Fruit is a red berry. It lacks the prickles.
Wombat berry (Eustrephus latifolius) is another wiry vine with parallel veins in the leaves. Its leaves are thin-textured and a pale dull green, with the bigger central vein indented on the upper surface. It has small white flowers followed by yellow berries to about 1cm diameter. A similar native is scrambling lily (Geitonoplesium cymosum) which has narrower leaves with the central vein raised on the upper surface, and a black berry. The weed bridal creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) has similar leaves with parallel venation, but they are glossy, and broader relative to their length. It has red berries.
Apple-berry (Billardiera scandens) is a small vine usually found in drier forests, and never in rainforest. It has simple leaves which are narrow-oval, often with a wavy margin. It climbs by twining. Flowers are cream to yellow and tubular, followed by an oval berry to 3cm long, which is slightly furry, green, ripening to purple. They are edible when ripe. Apple-berry is related to the Western Australian weedy bluebell creeper (Sollya heterophylla), which has quite similar leaves (although glossier) and climbing habit, but has blue flowers which are an open bell shape rather than tubular. The fruits are very similar.
Calystegia sepium is a native vine of wet areas, which looks similar to the weedy morning glories. It has thin-textured roughly heart-shaped leaves and large pink morning glory-like trumpet flowers. It differs from morning glory in having the base of each flower enclosed between two flaps, called bracts. It often grows around swamp edges in quite disturbed sites, and is not common. A similar, but smaller, native species is forest bindweed (Calystegia marginata) which grows in disturbed sites in gullies. It has smaller arrowhead shaped leaves and white flowers with two bracts at the base.
Convolvulus erubescens and Polymeria calycina are two small native creepers which twine through grasses among the groundcover, but seldom climb into shrubs. Both have pink morning glory-like flowers which are only 10-20mm in diameter, rather than the 80mm or so of the weedy morning glory. Convolvulus erubescens grows in grassy remnant vegetation in farming areas such as the Bega valley, while Polymeria calycina in a plant of near-coastal situations such as the grassy headlands south from Moruya and grassy coastal forests. The leaves of both species are variable, but roughly arrowhead shaped.
Pearl vine (Sarcopetalum harveyanum) and snake vine (Stephania japonica) are two similar native vines, both with heart-shaped alternate leaves. Snake vine has the leaf stalk inserted on the underside of the leaf, 1cm or so in from the leaf margin, while pearl vine has the leaf stalk attached more normally at the leaf edge. It is more deeply heart-shaped at the base too. The leaves of both are glossy and dark green. Both have inconspicuous flowers and small red berries.
Look-alikes: Round-leaf vine (Legnephora moorei) has leaves which are more rounded than heart-shaped, but similar in texture and colour to pearl and snake vine. They are 8-20cm in diameter, and have a greyish underside. The berries of this species have a waxy bloom. It only grows north from Milton.
Giant pepper vine (Piper novae-hollandiae) is a vigorous rainforest climber with large glossy and also slightly fleshy leaves which may be oval or heart-shaped. Leaves are alternate, with clusters of red fruits produced opposite the leaf. It climbs by aerial roots. It is only found north from Mt Dromedary.
Native passionfruits (Passiflora cinnabarina and Passiflora herbertiana) are usually small vines. P. cinnabarina is usually found growing among rocks, and P. herbertiana in moist forest along rivers and in gullies. Both have similar three-lobed leaves, in which the lobes are fairly broad. P. herbertiana leaves may be softly furry. It has yellow-green to orange flowers and green fruits to 50mm long with paler spots. P. cinnabarina has bright red flowers and greenish grey fruits to 20mm long.
Look-alikes: the weed blue morning glory (Ipomoea indica) also has three-lobed leaves, but the leaves are more deeply indented between the lobes, and the flowers are a distinctive blue to purple trumpet.
Weedy passionfruits, banana passionfruit (Passiflora mollissima), white passionflower (P. subpeltata) and the edible black passionfruit (P. edulis) are much larger plants than the native species. White passionflower has the most similar leaves, but they have a whitish underside, which the natives do not. It has white flowers and 40mm green fruits. Banana and edible passionfruit have larger leaves, deeply indented between the lobes, with toothed margins.
Molucca bramble (Rubus moluccanus var trilobus, formerly Rubus hillii) is related to the weed blackberry, but has a single shallowly three-lobed leaf. The leaf surface is dull green and crinkled, and the underside and new growth is covered in a dense cover of buff hairs. Flowers are pink and fruits much smaller than those of blackberries, and red rather than black.
Devilís twine (Cassytha pubescens and Cassytha glabella) are leafless parasitic plants which scramble over shrubs in drier forests and coastal heath. They attach to the host plant by means of suckers and extract water and nutrients from the host. They are often confused with dodders (Cuscuta species) which are unrelated parasites of herbs rather than shrubs, and include both native and introduced species. Devilís twine has small oval or round brownish fruits. Those of Cassytha pubescens are larger, and furry. These plants can become quite dominant at times. They are probably kept in check by periodic fire.
Look-alikes: another usually leafless small creeper is love creeper (Comesperma volubile). Its wiry green stems twine through shrubs in drier forests and it is inconspicuous except during its flowering period in spring, when it carries small blue butterfly shaped flowers.
Star cucumber (Sicyos australis) is an annual vine with thin-textured, pointy-lobed leaves which climbs with tendrils. As the name suggests it is related to cucurbits (pumpkin, cucumber etc), but the fruit is small (about 1cm long) and prickly, not at all fleshy. There are small sprays of white flowers. In leaf shape it is most similar to the weedy Cape ivy (*Delairea odorata), but the latter has fleshier leaves and yellow flowers. Star cucumber is generally quite uncommon, but may be locally abundant in some areas (see photo).
Climbing lignum (Muehlenbeckia adpressa) is a small twining plant found in near-coastal situations such as on sea cliffs and dunes. It has alternate broad-oval leaves with a slightly heart-shaped base and finely crisped margins. The leaves are hairless and very slightly fleshy. Stems may be reddish. The flowers are tiny and borne in branched heads 1-9 cm long.
Look-alikes: the leaves are most similar to the weed Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia) but its leaves lack the crisped edges.
Guinea flowers (Hibbertia scandens and Hibbertia dentata) are low climbers which trail through the groundcover or climb a small distance into shrubs. Hibbertia scandens has bright green slightly fleshy leaves and larger flowers about 4cm across. It only occurs naturally north from Tilba Tilba, but is commonly used as a garden plant. Its leaves could be confused with those of the weed Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia). Hibbertia dentata is a smaller plant, with leaves slightly toothed and often purple tinged and flowers about 2cm across.