Grape Ivy (aka Cissus rhombifolia) so called because its leaves resemble those of grapevines and its small, dark berries resemble grapes.
Grape Ivy is not a real ivy at all. Instead, it is a member of the Vitus (Vitaceae) family, as are actual grapes. [source]
These plants are very easy to grow, make excellent potted houseplant and hanging plants indoors.
In some areas of the southern United States, Grape Ivy can grow outdoors (but prefers partial shade) and makes an excellent ground cover or climbing plant for trellises and as a climbing plant for pergolas. In this article, we will focus on the indoor growing, care and use of Cissus. Read on to learn more.
Cissus Plant Care Requirements:
Water: Allow the soil to become nearly dry between waterings. Water the plant thoroughly and allow the water to drain through.
Never let the plant stand in water as this will cause root rot. Set potted Cissus on a bed of pebbles with water (not touching the base of the pot) to humidify the air around it. Mist hanging baskets frequently.
Light: When grown indoors, Cissus does well in bright indirect light. The plant can tolerate low light settings but will need pinching back frequently as it stretches toward any light source.
Soil: Use a rich, well-drained soil. A potting mix formulated for African Violets is ideal.
Fertilizer: Feed plants at half strength using a houseplant or African violet fertilizer once per season. If the leaves remain rich green, you are feeding enough. If they become pale or yellow, provide an extra feeding.
Ideal temperature: Cissus can tolerate temperatures ranging from 35-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant prefers 60-80F.
Miscellaneous: Easy-care Grape Ivy has been grown as a houseplant in the United States since the late 1940s. Although it was once easy to find, it is now somewhat rare.
Is Grape Ivy Poisonous?
Grape Ivy is non-toxic to cats and dogs according to the ASPCA plant listing. [source]
It is non-toxic to humans, although the sap may cause a slight skin rash in some people.
The History Of Grape Ivy
Cissus is a native of South America with a solid reputation as a go-to plant for challenging settings and challenged gardeners.
The pretty, dark green leaves feature an attractive reddish fuzz on the underside which imparts a hint of bronze. The serrated or toothed leaves can also range in size from four inches to six inches.
Although the plant does produce small flowers and berries when grown outdoors, rarely will Grape ivy flower when kept as an indoor plant.
The foliage is really the main calling card of Grape Ivy. The vines twine readily around trellises and other supports or cascade prettily from hanging pots.
Grape Ivy Varieties and Cultivars
There are several different cultivars available, and they differ considerably in appearance. Here are six of the most popular types.
As growers began to mass produce Grape Ivy one cultivar began to emerge as an ‘improved” Cissus rhombifolia a variety called ‘Mandaiana.”
If you prefer a plant with larger leaves, go for Mandaiana. It is compact, upright with full foliage. Mandaiana is a sturdier cultivar and performs well both indoors and outdoors. It is very tolerant of temperature fluctuations and does not tend to develop powdery mildew.
Ellen Danica (Cissus rhombifolia):
In the early 1970’s a Danish grower found a variety with fine, serrated leaves and was called ‘Ellen Danica.” This variety soon became the most common type grown.
Ellen Danica has very dark, lustrous leaves and looks of a bit more like oak leaves. This variety is commonly called oak leaf ivy.
Ellen Danica Grape Ivy was once a very popular choice for use in public settings such as hotel lobbies and malls. During the mid-to-late 1970s it was produced in the United States in great numbers by houseplant growers.
This variety is a great choice as a houseplant. It does not do well outdoors in hot areas as it tends to succumb to powdery mildew.
Additionally, cuttings do not root well at uneven temperatures. A consistently moderate indoor temperature is ideal for Ellen Danica.
Another good alternative to Ellen Danica is Fionia. The plant has very rich, glossy green leaves and impressively hardy. If you want to propagate lots of plants quickly, Fionia is not the best choice because it is slow rooting.
On the other hand, if you want to avoid having an ivy-like plant that overwhelms your space, this slow grower may be the best choice for you.
NOTE: A hybrid between “Ellen Danica” and “Fionia” known as ‘Ellen Fionia” has coarser, larger leaves and was also grown successfully.
Cissus antarctica (aka: Kangaroo Vine)
A relative of Grape Ivy. This plant has egg-shape (ovate) leaves rather than divided leaves like a grapevine. In terms of care, Kangaroo Vine is very much like Grape Ivy.
Cissus discolor (aka: Rex Begonia Vine)
A very colorful cousin, Discolor is a pretty plant with deep green leaves and pink, gray and/or silvery coloring. The leaves are heart-shaped with very long, pointy tips.
The plant looks similar to a genuine Rex Begonia but is not a begonia at all. Care for it as you would any Cissus.
Cissus amazonica (Amazon Vine)
Another Grape ivy relative sporting pretty arrow-shaped, purple leaves with silvery veins. This plant is easy-care like its cousins.
Cissus quadrangularis has been grown and the extract used as a medicinal plant for centuries in various Ayurvedic medicines for healing of injured ligaments, tendons and broken bones.
Growing Grape Ivy Plants
Although Ellen Danica is a tiny bit more delicate, all Cissus are very easy to grow. Because of the many pretty varieties, you can gather an impressive and interesting collection of foliage plants all with the same simple care instructions.
Cissus Good Low-Light Plants
In terms of lighting, Cissus are good low-light plants, but like all plants, they require some light. Generally speaking, as indoor plants they do well when placed within 8 or 9 feet of a reasonably well-lit window.
Naturally, the plant will be happier with a bit more light, and you can always add fluorescent light or grow lights for even better results.
For darker, more lustrous leaves in all varieties, be sure to control sun exposure. These plants do well in a wide range of light settings from low light to high light. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight as this tends to bleach (and eventually kill) the leaves.
Water On A Schedule
Establish a regular watering schedule, so the plant does not have to sit entirely dry for long periods of time. Don’t wait until the plant wilts. Check for moist soil weekly by poking your finger into the top of the soil about one inch. If the soil feels completely dry, it’s time to water thoroughly.
Be advised that too much water can cause the plant to wilt and drop leaves. Be sure to allow water to drain completely after watering. Take great care not to over water in the winter as this is sure to lead to root rot.
Fertilize For Your Growth Requirements
Adjust your fertilizing schedule to suit your circumstances. Generally speaking, you should fertilize your Grape Ivy once per season with a half-strength mixture of liquid fertilizer. Do this at the time of a regular watering. Water first, allow the plant to drain and then feed.
If the plant is in a sunny setting and/or you want faster growth, consider fertilizing monthly. If the plant grows in a dimmer setting where growth slows, cut back and fertilize only in the autumn and in the springtime.
Soil & Repotting
Alternately, if the potting mix is rich in natural organic matter, fertilizing may not be required at all. Remember to repot plants on a semi-annual basis to refresh the soil.
Plants should not need repotting more than once a year (typically in the springtime) as the roots of these plants grow slowly.
Pruning and Pinching
The amount to prune is dependent on the amount of light provided and the results you desire. If your plant becomes gangly with the tendrils stretching toward the light, trim it back to retain a bushier appearance.
For a bushy appearance, pinch back all of the growing tips in the springtime to encourage dense foliage.
If notice the plant dropping lower leaves periodically, this is not a problem unless the plant drops lots of leaves all at once.
Loss of one or two leaves occasionally is normal shedding.
If the plant becomes bare and leggy, prune parts of the plant back to about six inches above the soil level to stimulate more and bushier growth.
NOTE: Like many indoor plants grape ivy tends to collect dust and take on a “tired” appearance. Every so often give the plant’s leaves a shower in the bathroom! Cissus is also a great plant for the bathroom!
Pests and Diseases
Grape ivy plants are resistant to most pests and diseases. Those that do plague them are caused entirely by excessive watering.
As long as you maintain an effective watering schedule, your Grape Ivy should not have any problems with:
- Mealy bug attacks
- Spider mites – a problem under warm and dry conditions
- Plant scale bugs
- Powdery mildew
- Root rot
If these do become problematic, prune off affected areas, repot into fresh soil, mist with a Neem oil mixture and adjust the watering schedule to not drown your plants!
Improving lighting and adding a source of air circulation will also help prevent these moisture related problems from developing.
Grape Ivy Propagation Is Easy
Like their grapevine cousins, Grape Ivy can be propagated via cuttings in water or in carefully prepared soil. Just as with any other vine, begin by clipping off a vine tip about six inches long with a few (3-6) leaves on the top and at least one set of leaf nodes on the stem.
This cutting can be placed in water (change it often) until roots grow (4-6 weeks) or placed directly into well-drained soil.
Be sure the potting medium used provides excellent drainage and aeration. A good mix consists of peat moss or coco coir mixed with particulate matter such as perlite, bark, calcined clay and/or bits of Styrofoam.
It should be able to retain enough water to stimulate root growth, yet it should drain well to prevent root rot.
TIP: Note that peat moss is rather acidic, so if you use it, add some dolomite to buffer the acidity. If you feel a bit uneasy about creating your own mix, a good orchid mix will also work.
As with all plants, a steady temperature range stimulates good growth. Ideally, cuttings should be kept at 68-82 degrees Fahrenheit.
When placing cutting into water or potting medium, be sure the leaf nodes on the stem are beneath the level of the water or soil.
Use of rooting hormone is optional, but most professional growers feel that it is helpful. [source]
Related Reading: Learn To Grow The Giant Grape Ivy – Tetrastigma Voinierianum
Get Big Results With A Little Effort
If you are looking for a lush foliage plant to provide a luxurious appearance with very little work on your part, Cissus is the right choice for you.
These pretty, undemanding plants grow easily and provide a refreshing reminder of nature even in very challenging low-light settings such as in commercial offices and smaller home offices.