Growing Cissus Tuberosa

When it comes to the Vitaceae family, cissus is the most extensive genus and one of the most popular.

One of these is a lesser-known but fascinating plant named Cissus tuberosa (SISS-us too-ber-OH-suh).

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The scientific name most people know this Mexican perennial by is either Cissus tuberosa or its former name, Vitus tuberosa.

However, in 1821 this plant was first described as Cissus tiliacea.

Due to the rules of botanical naming, the accepted scientific name is always the one used in the first published description.

Thus, when looking for this plant on botanical sites, you may find it either way.

Cissus Tuberosa Care

Size and Growth

Oddly enough, the plant’s unique appearance in nature isn’t always the same as what you’ll get domestically.

The plant is adapted for mountainous regions. Its natural habitat tends to develop a horizontal caudex to 10″ inches in diameter with deciduous vines measuring 5 yards or longer.

Domestically, one can train the plant to grow vertically with the help of a trellis or other support.

The caudex is a mottled green and gray bearing joint that produces the annual vines.

It grows in a twisted, irregular shape with swelling at the nodes. This trait gives it a unique appearance even when grown vertically.

These nodes are the secret to this plant’s invasive nature, however.

As the annual vines die back to the caudex for winter, any nodes close enough to the soil to make contact will take root and develop into new plants.

Tendrils accompany the palmate green leaves and help the plant grasp and climb to maximize light exposure.

Flowering and Fragrance

While this plant can flower, the little green to yellow flowers are easily overlooked.

Fertilized blooms may produce small fruit clusters that ripen to a purplish-black.

However, these berries aren’t edible, even with a glossy sheen like grapes. 

Light and Temperature

This cissus plant can also tolerate partial shade conditions.

Indoors, give this plant a spot at a sunny southern window for the best results.

The plant is rated for USDA hardiness zones 8b to 11 but will tolerate zone 12.

You may also grow it outdoors in cooler zones if you bring it in before the temperature drops too low.

Tuberosa can handle high heat but is only mildly frost-tolerant.

Ideal lows are 40° to 50° Fahrenheit, though they can survive brief dips down to around 30° Fahrenheit.

At 28° Fahrenheit, the plant’s tuber will suffer frost damage.

Watering and Feeding

The caudex is a type of above-ground water storage. It allows this plant to survive drought conditions.

However, you’ll want to water it when the soil feels dry about halfway down a container or 3″ to 4″ inches deep in the garden.

Cut back in autumn when the plant dies back for the winter.

Your tuberosa doesn’t need much encouragement to grow. But it will enjoy a monthly dose of liquid houseplant fertilizer in the spring and summer.

Stick with a formula that’s lower in nitrogen, as the primary purpose of this nutrient is stem and foliage growth.

Soil and Transplanting

Any rich, well-draining soil is fine for tuberosa.

You can turn in some well-decomposed manure or organic compost, and perlite or vermiculite for garden planting. 

For containers, any good cactus mix will work. Or use a richer mix such as one for African violets.

Note that the richer the soil, the faster your plant will grow, so be sure to choose your mix based on this fact.

There’s no data on growing this plant in containers, but the growth rate suggests you need to do an annual repotting. This is especially true if you see roots beginning to peek out of the drainage holes or soil surface.

Outdoors, consider transplanting to pots in the autumn if you live in a cooler zone.

If you do this, be sure to harden the plant in the spring before replanting.

Grooming and Maintenance

Prune the stems regularly, as the plant can quickly grow out of control.

This process does slow caudex development. If you want a larger caudex, you’ll need to let it go a few years before the first pruning.

How to Propagate Cissus Tiliacea

Cultivation from seed is possible but problematic. Growers suspect the seeds may only be viable if fertilized by another plant.

However, the plant often self-propagates through air layering. Also, stem cuttings have proven equally viable.

Cissus Tuberosa Pests or Diseases

This cissus plant has a small frost tolerance but may suffer damage if exposed for long periods.

It’s drought-tolerant, and the annual vines may die back so the caudex can conserve water.

This plant can become highly invasive if not properly maintained. Still, it is not restricted in the US.

Expect the usual pests: 

  • aphids, 
  • greenflies, 
  • mealybugs, 
  • scale, 
  • spider mites, 
  • thrips, 
  • whitefly.

Rot is the most prevalent disease risk, including heart rot, root rot, or stem rot.

Botrytis blight and southern blight may also be a problem.

Cissus plants are non-toxic to humans, pets, and livestock, but the sap can cause skin irritation in some individuals.

Cissus Tiliacea Uses

Expect this plant to be a talking point among visitors, both good and bad.

The unique shape won’t appeal to those who prefer uniformity or attractive blooms. 

Yet it is perfect for those who like something special.

The ability to train it into vertical growth helps with indoor cultivation. It also reduces the risk of its taking over outdoor gardens. 

Tiliacea can give other vining plants some welcome competition with its palmate foliage.

There’s evidence this plant was once quite popular and somehow faded into obscurity. It is just beginning to gain traction once again.

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