A Cat-tastic Kiwi

by Nancy Rose, Editor of Arnoldia

October 5, 2017

silver vine fruits

A Cat-tastic Kiwi

silver vine foliage

Some leaves of silver vine (Actinidia polygama) appear brushed with silvery white paint. Photo by Nancy Rose.

Silver vine (Actinidia polygama) is a rambunctious scrambling/twining vine that can quickly cover a trellis, arbor, or chain-link fence. This member of the kiwi family (Actinidiaceae) is native to eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and eastern Russia). Silver vine is deciduous, bearing large, ovate leaves with acuminate tips. Many of the leaves are variegated as if brushed with silvery white paint (hence the common name “silver vine”); the variegation is most prominent early in the season and leaves often turn solid green by late summer.

cats with silver vine

Buddy and Chickie Wicket (looking slightly stoned) chewed, rubbed, and rolled on fresh silver vine stems, reports Pam Thompson, Arboretum Manager of Adult Education. Photo by Pam Thompson.

As with most kiwis, A. polygama is dioecious, bearing attractive small white male and female flowers on separate plants. Silver vine fruits are considerably smaller than those of the commercially available kiwi (A. deliciosa), have an ovoid to cylindrical shape, and mature bright orange rather than green. The fruits are quite edible, and both the fruit and leaves of silver vine have been used in traditional medicine.

It turns out that it’s not just humans who are fans of this vine. Many cats respond in a euphoric way (like a catnip high) to various parts of A. polygama. In 1939, longtime Arnold Arboretum plant propagator William Judd reported [pdf] that neighborhood cats had climbed into the greenhouse just to get at silver vine plants he was propagating! Recent research shows that the most alluring part to cats is dried fruit galls (fruits that had been infested by matatabi fruit gall midges [Pseudasphondylia matatabi], a pest of A. polygama), which are available whole or in ground-up form as “cat powder.” In an improptu test, the cats of several Arboretum staff members responded positively to fresh cut stem sections of silver vine. I’ve ordered some of the fruit gall powder for a follow-up test to be conducted soon.

cat with silver vine

Henri, the cat of Arboretum Head of Library and Archives Lisa Pearson, rubs his cheek on a section of silver vine stem. Photo by Lisa Pearson.

Nancy Rose, editor of Arnoldia

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