Nursery Manager’s Plant of the Month – Geitonoplesium cymosum

The Scrambling Lily lives up to its name quite well, at least as far as scrambling goes. The ‘lily’ component is, like many native plants, something that might require a little more attention to detail to appreciate.

Geitonoplesium cymosum is fairly common in our region in and along rainforest margins and wet sclerophyll forests. It is considered a relative of the asparagus plants and exhibits some similar characteristics – delicate leaves and twiners, edible shoots and a hardy rhizome. From field experience, it also seems to be quite tolerant of several of the more commonly used herbicides in revegetation works (a trait shared with the exotic asparagus species that can now also be found growing in our parks, roadsides and forest margins).

Whilst G. cymosum can reach several metres into a forest canopy and mature plants will have tendrils around 2cm diameter at the base, it will also fare quite well as a low plant, twining through other groundcovers and shrubs. Younger G. cymosum or those growing in more exposed conditions will have quite fine leaves, whilst older and more shaded specimens may develop leaves 2-3cm wide and over 10cm long – almost looking like a different plant altogether! It can develop a reasonable cover of foliage when growing over debris but doesn’t usually get thick enough on other living plants to smother them like some other thickly-leaved vines can. This makes it a good option when trying to reinstate some groundcover or edge ‘complexity’ (some people call it ‘messiness’) without losing too much of the existing shrubs or groundcovers. Its twining nature will be a threat to very young plants though, perhaps strangling them if they are not old enough to have developed a sturdy woody stem.

In landscaping, G. cymosum could work well as a companion to other creepers/vines on vertical structures such as a trellis or archways, or it may be a way to bring more foliage and feature to other sparse-growing shrubs or under larger shade trees. If planting it in a pot, be sure to choose one with good depth to give the rhizomes plenty of room to bank away the nutrients and moisture that give this plant its resilience through the tougher times.

There is another place this species could find fame too, eventually. In the market-garden or fruit orchard. Perhaps one day, it won’t be so unusual for humans to cultivate native plants such as this in rich poly-culture systems, rather than turning to broadscale monoculture of exotic species simply because of familiarity, old habits, or lack or experimental interest.

The flowers of G. cymosum are small pendulous clusters of white flowers 1-2cm diameter, which will lead to fruits about 1cm diameter that ripen to a black colour. You may find the flowers give off a delicate scent. The birds will find the fruits give a good feed!

If you are out and about looking for this plant in nature, keep in mind its doppelganger Eustrephus latifolius or Wombat Berry, which prefers the drier forests, but there is often reasonable overlap in their distribution. Both have similar twining growth and fine leaves – the details that tell them apart can be for you to study yourself!

Shane Litherland – Nursery Manager

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