What Is Moonseed Vine?

Moonseed is a genus of vines found in the family Solanaceae (the nightshade family). These vines are native to South America, but have been cultivated throughout most of the world. They grow naturally or they can be propagated from cuttings. Most varieties are edible, although some contain toxic alkaloids called saponins. Some species may cause skin irritation if eaten raw or cooked.

The term “vine” is used here because the plants are technically not vascular like trees or shrubs. Instead, they have stolons (stalklike branches) which support their leaves and flowers. The stems of these vines do not produce seeds, so they cannot reproduce sexually.

All moonseed vines belong to one of two genera: Erythrinae or Vitis.

Common Names For Moonseed Vine

In English, there are several common names for moonseed vine. There is the Latin name, melilotus, which means “black grapes.” Other names include melipone, mielopone, melepones and maniperne.

In Spanish it’s called muelpeño. In French it’s called marmelade and in Italian it’s called marmoletta.

The word “moon” refers to the plants’ flowers, which are shaped like crescents. “Seed” is a reference to the fruit, which resembles grapes and contains seeds. The word “vine” is used to describe these plants in a literal way, because that’s how they grow and reproduce.

The Common Moonseed Vine

Erythrina erythrina is one of the most widespread vines in South America, as its name suggests (Erythrina means red flower). The plant produces lovely red flowers that are popular with birds and bees. It has a long pre-Columbian history in the region, where it was used for many purposes by the Incas, Aztecs, and other Native American groups.

It was introduced to the Old World in the 1500s by Spanish explorers and colonists, who encountered it in South America. It is now naturalized in Southern Europe, the Canary Islands, and much of Africa. It is grown as an ornamental plant in Australia, North America, and much of Asia.

The vine does not grow well in cool, damp climates. It does best in dry, temperate areas. It grows especially well in Southern Europe, California and other Mediterranean regions.

There is a popular variety of this species known as the Bay checkerspot butterfly weed, which is named for the Bay Checkerspot butterfly.

The E. erythrina is not only a popular ornamental plant, it also has some practical purposes. The wood from the vine can be made into furniture and it is also used to make crafts, tools, toys and fish floats.

When the stems and leaves are crushed, they produce a substance known as “fool’s honey.” The honey, which smells like caramel or butterscotch, is not suitable for consumption because it contains toxic alkaloids. However, the sweet scent attracts insects and other animals, which the plant’s seeds then use for dispersal.

Several varieties of moonseed vine are cultivated throughout the world. They are popular in gardens and landscape design.

The seeds of this plant are toxic to humans. The lethal dose has been measured at about 3.5 grams.

There are several traditional uses for the plant, however, including the treatment of toothaches and skin conditions.

The flowers are also edible and have a mild, lemony flavor. They can be eaten on their own or used to add flavor to other dishes. However, eating large quantities of the flowers is inadvisable, because they can be poisonous, like the rest of the vine.

It’s important not to mistake this vine for the common bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), which is very similar in appearance. It’s also known as “morning glory,” much like it’s closely-related cousin.

Sources & references used in this article:

Effect of moonseed vine (Triclisia gilletii Staner) on ethane-1,2-diol-induced urolithiasis and its renotoxicity in Wistar albino rats by OS Olayeriju, OO Crown, OO Elekofehinti… – African Journal of …, 2020 – Springer

Some twining vines by D Wyman – … of Popular Information (Arnold Arboretum, Harvard …, 1939 – JSTOR

Gelatinous fibers are widespread in coiling tendrils and twining vines by AJ Bowling, KC Vaughn – American Journal of Botany, 2009 – Wiley Online Library

Woody vines of the southeastern states by WH DUNCAN – SIDA, Contributions to Botany, 1967 – JSTOR

De novo Transcriptome Assembly, Gene Annotation and SSR Marker Development in the Moon Seed Genus Menispermum (Menispermaceae) by F Hina, G Yisilam, S Wang, P Li, C Fu – Frontiers in Genetics, 2020 – frontiersin.org

Perennial vine competition and control by CD Elmore, LG Heatherly, RA Wesley – 1989 – ir.library.msstate.edu

Phylogeny and a revised tribal classification of Menispermaceae (moonseed family) based on molecular and morphological data by RC Ortiz, W Wang, FMB Jacques, Z Chen – Taxon, 2016 – Wiley Online Library

Fossil moonseeds from the Paleogene of west Gondwana (Patagonia, Argentina) by NA Jud, A Iglesias, P Wilf… – American journal of …, 2018 – Wiley Online Library

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