The Garlic Vine: An amazing vine from the wilderness of Amazon
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The Garlic Vine: An amazing vine from the wilderness of Amazon

August 12, 2018

Text & photographs by Dr. Mahadeswara Swamy, Scientist

Climbers, also called vines, refer to plants requiring support for growing upwards. Though they spread naturally, the stems need to be guided either to grow in a particular direction or on a  supporting structure by tying to props. Many develop tendrils (thin extensions from the stem/leaves) or suckers (stem sprouts) for anchorage or for twining around their props. Climbers not only enhance the colour and magnificence of the garden but also blur hard lines and soften hard scape walls and other structures.

Of course, there are many ornamental vines. But one of the most beautiful climbers is Garlic Vine. It has other names such as Ajo Sacha, Amethyst Vine,  Wild Garlic. Though there is no South Indian name, it is called Chanamlei or Lata Parul in North Eastern States. The feature which makes this plant pretty unique is the display of tri-colour blooms simultaneously on the plant: Deep lavender flowers with white throat fading to a paler lavender as they mature.

Secondly, garlic-like odour when leaves are crushed. Beyond all they create monsoon mania with charming blooms during the dull rainy season.

Interestingly, the plant has medicinal and culinary values too. Its scientific name is Mansoa alliacea (Synonyms: Bignonia alliacea, Pseudocalymma alliaceum, Adenocalymma alliaceum)  of Bignoniaceae (Jacaranda family).  The plant is native to tropical South America, where it grows wild in the tropical rainforests of Brazil and abundant in the forests near Amazon. In Mysuru ’s climate it grows luxuriantly.

It is a woody vine which climbs by tendrils and attains 10-15 m in length. Young stems are quadrangular and the angles are ribbed whereas mature stems are cylindrical or sub-cylindrical with lenticels (air pores), compressed nodes and pseudostipules (leaf like structure).  Leaves compound, opposite, 2-foliolate, sometimes with a terminal tendril, trifid; leaves with 9 – 30  leaflets,  which are broadly elliptical with undulating margin and keels. Flowers in axillary racemes. Flowers with green sepals and fused petals with five rounded lobes technically called infundibuliform, violet-pink or lavender; Fruit, a woody capsule with longitudinal ribs contains compressed seeds.

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Useful Tips

  • Can be grown in open ground or containers along side the wall. The best use is to grow on a chain link fence or trellis.  When grown in containers train and trim new growth around an inverted hoop of rattan cane or wire to keep the plant in good shape.
  • It needs bright sunlight, good watering and mulching for best growth. Water plenty during active growth period (just before flowering) but reduce during resting period (winter).
  • Trim the plant after flowers are gone. As flower buds appear on new growth avoid pruning just before flowering.
  • Although the plant grows well in semi-shade areas, the flowering is reduced (a case of development of foliage at the expense of flowering).
  • While buying  these  plants in a  nursery, check the leaves by crushing with your hands as a look-alike plant species without the properties of Garlic vine is also sold !
  • There is a belief that this house plant pushes out all the bad luck from the house ! If you wish to bring some vine goodness to your garden and good luck to your house, go for the Garlic vine.

Medicinal and other uses

The plant has great ancestral value for the local communities in South America,  being a traditional medicine for healers and shamans. Due to the presence of several sulphur compounds like alliin and allyl sulphides similar to those in garlic, plant parts are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and anti-pyretic and used for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism besides cold, flu and fever. Also find use as ingredients in various multi-herbal formulas in capsule form and sold in stores in Brazil and Peru. Use of garlic vine products is catching up even in the USA.

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Another interesting fact about the plant is many people consider the plant to be ‘magical’ or ‘spiritual’ and suspend foliage around the home to drive away evil spirits. The leaves are burned and smudged on body parts (like vibuthi ) or houses to ‘cleanse the spirit’ and bring good luck.

Gardening

The plant prefers well-drained soil, good watering and full sunlight. It can be propagated using seeds or cuttings.  Cuttings are easier. Choose semi-hardwood stems of at least 3-4 nodes and remove leaves at the base and plant them in  seed beds/pots containing a mixture of sand and compost (1:4).  Water regularly to keep the soil mixture moist to initiate rooting process and stem growth, which takes around 2 weeks. Transplant young plants to pots of smaller size (8”) initially using standard potting mixture. On attaining full growth, re-pot using higher size pots which ensure better growth and flowering.

Where to see

The Green Hotel (alongside the fence bordering Hunsur Road) and home gardens.

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