While going over photographs of my garden in Leamington Spa, England today, I came across one of my favourite plants – a Japanese vine called akebi (Akebia quinata, five-leaf akebi; there is another species with three leaves, A. trifoliata). It clambered over a pergola-cum-garden seat positioned to face a small pond that I’d made with the help of No. 2 son. This was where I loved to drink my morning coffee, hoping to see a newt or two breaking the pond surface, and I was rarely disappointed. (The newts had come on their own.)
The akebi is also known as the chocolate vine, apparently because of the scent of its flowers. The flowers are indeed sweetly scented, though I have to say they didn’t evoke chocolate to me. (Scent is quite subjective, don’t you agree?) The maroon flowers have a most curious and charming shape and I loved gazing at them at all stages of blossoming.
There are purple edible fruits as well. I’ve never had my vine fruit in Leamington though. But perhaps I needed another vine as a cross-pollinator for fruit to set. It is not only the inner pulp of the fruit that is edible, but also the flowers, young shoots, and the pods themselves. Some recipes and more info on akebi can be found here.
The young vines are used for weaving baskets in the Tohoku region in Japan’s Snow Country. I have two well-loved baskets from a basketweaver in a village north of Omagari, Akita Prefecture. I have the smaller one with me in Bonn. It features both unpeeled and peeled vines. These robust and well-crafted baskets have kept their shape and remain as handsome as when I observed them being made over 35 years ago.
Please note that in the United States, Akebia quinata is considered an extremely invasive species. It is not considered invasive in England though. Perhaps the secret to curtailing its rampant spread in its native Japan is through utilizing the vines in baskets and the flowers and fruits for food. I am grateful to have been able to grow this enchanting vine and enjoy the extraordinary beauty and scent of its flowers.