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What is Tetrastigma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Tetrastigma is a genus of woody vines in the grape family, Vitaceae. Mature plants can vary in size, depending on the species, but some can become quite large, producing huge leaves and colonizing surfaces within reach of the sprawling vines. Several species are cultivated domestically as ornamental plants and in the wild, they are a topic of interest to botanists because they host a family of parasitic plants, Rafflesiaceae. These plants are found growing only in association with Tetrastigma.

Members of this genus produce long, woody stems and will climb anything in reach. The leaves are palmately compound and evergreen. Tetrastigma is adapted for the tropics and the climbing growth habit is probably an evolutionary response to conditions in the rainforest, where plants must fight for light and air by climbing into the upper canopy. These plants produce small sprays of discreet white flowers, followed by small green berries.

In the garden, these climbing plants can be used to quickly establish a privacy screen and they can also be trained on arbors and on trellises near walls to hide visually uninteresting surfaces. The plants propagate very readily through cuttings from mature specimens and can also be grown from seed. Nurseries and garden supply stores may have Tetrastigma species in stock or can order them for customers, and trades with other gardeners can also potentially be a source.

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Like other plants from the tropics, Tetrastigma species are frost tender and they need humidity, moist soil with lots of organic material worked in, and warm temperatures. They do not like to be dry, and should be misted if they are being grown in a dry environment. Greenhouses can be used for cultivation in cooler climates where the plants cannot thrive outdoors. Pinching back will help the plants branch out instead of getting weedy and spindly, and can also be used to control the growth to keep the plants from taking over.

Members of the Tetrastigma genus that host parasitic plants are a topic of interest. The parasites live inside the plant, putting out flowers and foliage that emerge directly from the stems of the host. Parasites rely on nutrients collected by the host for a supply of energy and use the vascular system of the host to deliver nutrients and carry away wastes. Study of parasitic plants is a topic of interest in some regions of the world, where people are interested in looking at the interconnected lives of various plant species and the way plants have adapted to make the best of their environment.

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