Grape Ivy, Easy Houseplants

gh1Grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) is called this not because they produce grapes, but rather their leaves resemble those of grapes—just much smaller. In fact, they are in the same Vitus or “Vitaceae” family as grapes. They’re not true ivy plants, but get this name from their growth habit. They are among the easiest houseplants to grow, generally being grown in a hanging or raised container to allow the stems to cascade.

Although grape ivy prefers medium to bright light, it will tolerate fairly low light levels indoors. You may see it listed as Venezuelan treebine in reference to where it grows native in tropical and subtropical habitats with filtered light on forest floors. If it gets “leggy” from too little light, just pinch it back to shape. Too much light, such as direct sun, may sunburn leaves, giving them a bleached appearance before turning brown.

Being tropical, grape ivy really prefers warm temperatures above 50 degrees (F), but will tolerate down to 35 degrees. Ideal is a fairly consistent temperature, between 65 and 80 degrees.

Allow grape ivy plants to dry slightly between watering, and don’t let plants stay waterlogged (such as pots with saucers or no drainage). If pots are in saucers to protect furniture and indoor furnishings, make sure to dump out any water an hour or so after watering. Leaves dropping excessively and prematurely often indicates the soil staying too wet.

When plants are putting on new growth (often spring and summer), fertilize them with a product of your choice, according to package directions. Fertilize them more often if you want them to grow faster.

The palm-shaped leaves of the grape ivy are divided into thirds (“3-palmate”), each of these leaflets in a diamond or rhomboid shape (hence the species name). Leaflets are larger, with deeper lobe indentations, in the cultivar ‘Ellen Danica’ which you more often see called merely “oak leaf ivy”.

Leaves can be six inches long, have coarse “teeth” along the leaflet margins, and rust-red hairs on the undersides. Leaves are along vining stems which, if given support such as a trellis, will climb to several feet. Flowers are seldom produced or seen indoors, rather it is grown for its lush, tropical foliage. Studies by Dr. Bill Wolverton, originally with NASA, showed that grape ivy did remove some pollutants from the air, but wasn’t as effective as some other popular houseplant choices.

Grape Ivy is non-toxic to cats and dogs according to the ASPCA plant listing. That’s a good thing, as my cat likes to climb on cabinets to nibble on the ends of the vines from a hanging basket. It is non-toxic to humans, although the sap may cause a slight skin rash in some people.

While grape ivy is commonly found, you may also see a relative—the Kangaroo vine (Cissus antarctica). The main difference is that its leaves are not divided, but rather broadly “ovate” or egg-shaped. It grows similar to grape ivy, with similar culture.

A much more colorful relative is the Rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor). This one, too, has leaves that aren’t divided and are roughly ovate, but with heart-shaped leaf bases and lance-shaped tips. Leaves are deep green, with silver, grey or pink zones similar to a Rex begonia. Yet this is a vine like its relatives, with similar environmental needs and culture. A bit less colorful is Amazon vine (Cissus amazonica) with arrow-shaped leaves, flushed with purple, and silvery veins.