A Gardening Journal

Sausage Vine

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Sausage vine stems are equal-opportunity twiners, racing up poles, wires, and—whoops—the young branches of this cedar.  Unlike, say, clematis, where it's the stems of the leaves that do the twining, the leaf stems of Stauntonia hexaphylla are straight, and show off the leathery oval leaflets.

 

"Hexaphylla" means six-leaved, and there are only five leaflets even on one of the larger leaves on my sausage vine.  I'll know I've made this vine happier when I start seeing leaves that have the full complement of six. 

 

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Then I realized that the cedar of lebanon can be part of the solution.  I'm espaliering it onto a frame just a foot out from a sheltered South-facing wall. 

 

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Here in southern New Engand, the cedar needs all the Summer warmth and Winter shelter it can get.   And so does the sausage vine.

 

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If I train the sausage vine up onto the arms of the cedar espalier, the vine will be held that much closer to that sheltering wall, and will also enjoy that much more of the hot Summer sun.   I'll start the training this Spring.

 

Meanwhile, I've laid the Stauntonia stems, which had been growing ramshackle into the cedar, alongside the foundation to keep them out of the teeth of the worst Winter weather that will, surely, come for a visit in January and February.

 

When I figure out just how to properly partner a sausage vine with an espaliered cedar, I'll be able to enjoy the look of the vine's foliage alongside the cedar's needly stems without having to hold it in place. 

 

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With some attention, then, maybe my sausage vine will start bearing fruit. which are two inches long and, indeed, look like cocktail sausages.  You can eat them out-of-hand, too.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this unusual evergreen vine:

 

Latin Name

Stauntonia hexaphylla

Common Name

Sausage Vine

Family

Lardizabalaceae, the Akebia family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen vine.

Hardiness

Zones 7 to 10.

Habit

The stems are twining and opportunistic, grabbing hold of whatever they can.

Rate of Growth

Fast when the climate's mild enough.

Size in ten years

Spread is dependent on congenial habitat.  As long as the Winter isn't severe enough to cause a lot of foliage damage or tip die-back, Stauntonia will twine twenty to thirty feet.

Texture

Thanks to the unusual palmate foliage—large oval leaflets each on long little stems, the petiolule, that attach to the end of the longer-still leaf stem, the petiole—Stauntonia is full but not dense.  Twining makes it an equal-opportunity climber, so growth and therefore overall volume and density is determined by how many branches or wires or panels of lattice are within reach.    

Grown for

its evergreen foliage, which is smooth-edged and leathery, and similar to that of Akebia but much larger. 

 

its flowers: Clusters of fragrant white flowers with purple-blushed petals.

 

its fruit:  Two inches long and purple, they're also edible out-of-hand, with a flavor decribed as honey-life. Stauntonia is not self-fruitful: It's dioecious, so at least one male and female must be planted. Alas, no source I'm aware of selled plants that have been sexed. It's best, then, not to grow Stauntonia specifically for its fruit.

 

its vigor: If it isn't challenged by too-severe Winters, Stauntonia can clothe even the larger pergola or tallest trellis.

Flowering season

Spring.

Color combinations

Other than the creamy white of its flowers and the green of its stems and leaves, Stauntonia hexaphylla brings color through the purple blush of its flowers, and the purple of the sausage-like fruit.  It's a "cold" purple, i.e., without the pink that would cause it to veer to rose, and so it goes with any other colors in the garden, whether hot (red and orange and yellow), cool (pink and blue and rose), or neutral (white and gray). 

Partner plants

Stauntonia is large-scale when happy, and is too vigorous to partner with companion vines such as clematis, or scandent shrubs like rambling roses.  Plus, its evergreen foliage, so welcome in the Winter, would be marred by the unsightly leafless stems of either clematis or roses.  Because Stauntonia twines like wisteria instead of self-holds like ivy or climbing hydrangea, it can't be easily trained into trees.  Any tree tall enough to balance the vine's growth, which can be to thirty feet, would have lower limbs far too large for the Stauntonia to twine around.

 

It's usually best, then, to partner Stauntonia with a pergola or trellis, not other plants.  See "How to handle it," below.  

Where to use it in your garden

Stauntonia foliage can become Winter-damaged even where the vine itself is quite hardy.  The foliage is leathery, so doesn't quickly drop off, either.  It would be a nightmare to try to groom Winter-browned foliage from a mature vine each Spring.  Unless you're gardening from the warm end of Zone 7 south, then, it's probably the highest priority to site Stauntonia where it gets the best shelter in Winter.  See "How to handle it," below.  If that location is not where you want to have a pergola, fine:  Site the pergola where it should go, and clothe it with a hardier vine.

Culture

Sun or part shade; more sun is helpful farther north, to warm the vine up into growth sooner in the Spring, and help new foliage and stems harden as much as possible in advance of the next Winter. 

 

Stauntonia is tolerant when it comes to soil but, as usual, moisture retentive in Summer and well-drained in Winter is the best way to maximize hardiness.

How to handle it: The Basics

In the cold end of Zone 7 and below, Stauntonia is an achievement.  Be proud you've established it!  Site for maximum warmth in Summer and maximum wind protection in Winter.  Against a south- or west-facing wall would be ideal.  If circumstances permit, you could clothe even a large wall (tall as well as wide) in Stauntonia.  And you could help it stay in peak condition through the Winter by hanging a sheet of wind-baffle fabric in front of it.  Put grommets into a sheet and hang it from heavy-duty hooks you've attached across the top and down each side of the growth.  Put the baffle up by January and take it down after mid-March.     

 

In warm Zone 7 and warmer—lucky you!—sausage vine is fully hardy.  So you can let the vine's size, potential for creating shade atop pergolas, and overall ornamental interest be your guide on where to plant it. 

 

Plan for the vine's mature size by providing wires or poles for it to twine up.  Like all vines, Stauntonia stems have a sense of touch; the ones that feel the presence of something to twine upon grow much faster.  Growth is faster still when it can also be upward; vines won't twine on horizontal wires.  

 

To get twining vines up the posts of pergolas—which would normally be far too wide for the vine to twine around directly—attach a galvanized wire to large screw-eyes up one side of the post.  The vine will race up that.   

 

I'll write next season on how I partner my own Stauntonia with my espaliered cedar.   

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

As far as this potentially large vine is accessible, groom it in early Spring to clip off any damaged stems or foliage.  If larger-scale intervention is needed, wait, if possible, until until later in the Spring, when the vine is through flowering.  And then have at it. 

Quirks or special cases

Stauntonia is hardier than you expect.  Many years ago, I planted one in the very sheltered garden of an adventurous client in Rhode Island.  The vine flowered heavily, which is usually thought not to occur unless the vine is happy, indeed.  But then that client got divorced, and the property has been sold (let me see) at least twice since.  Who knows how the sausage vine is doing now?

Downsides

If only Stauntonia were a zone or two hardier.  Sigh.  It would be nice in Zone 6 not to have to site it only where hardiness can be enhanced, and only then try to take advantage of its substantial ornamental talents. 

Variants

There are about eight other species of Stauntonia, but S. hexaphylla is the only one you (or I) are likely to be able to source.  Believe me, I've tried.  But Holboellia—also known as sausage vine—is a very close relation, and several species are popular.  Look for H. coriacea, H. fargesii, and H. latifolia, as well as their cultivars.  Like Stauntonia, Holboellia is usually thought of as Zone 7 - 10, but some strains of H. latifolia have been collected at high altitudes, and are listed as Zone 6.  I'll start with them in my own attempts to establish a Holboellia collection.  

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By seed, by layering, and by cuttings.

Native habitat

Stauntonia hexaphylla is native to Japan.

 
 
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