A Cat-tastic Kiwi

by Nancy Rose

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.

4 thoughts on “A Cat-tastic Kiwi

  1. I have three young Actinidia polygama plants, at the moment around 18″ tall. I am in the UK, and am growing them specifically do dry the fruits to use in cat toys. The plants are hard to find here in the UK.

    Do you have any advice? On growing, care, harvesting the fruit, drying the fruit? And please, what are these midges?



  2. Thanks for your interest. We checked with our assistant manager of horticulture, who is quite fond of the species. In terms of cultivation, she noted that Actinidia polygama is a fast-growing plant that prefers locations with full sun and moist but well-drained soil. The plants are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. If you would like to obtain fruits, you will, therefore, need at least two plants. While several of our staff members tested the catnip-like qualities with the stems and foliage, none have tried drying the fruits. If you do, please let us know how it works.

  3. The insect P. matatabi is required for the plant to produce fruit galls. Therefore it is not possible to grow plants in the US or Europe that will produce fruit galls. The plant can be grown anywhere. In Texas, it does not tolerate any direct sunlight and needs wet soil.

  4. When I planted my A. kolomikta vines decades ago, they were regularly and mysteriously shredded. I stumbled upon the factoid discussed above someplace online, and subsequent inspections revealed that the plants were festooned with cat hair! They finally outgrew the cats’ ability to damage them much, and the kiwi patch became one of their favorite haunts. Since then, I’ve finally managed to get a male to puberty (the typical strain in the trade appears to be less hardy than most females, dying repeatedly), and have harvested fruit the last couple years–in Fairbanks, Alaska. Now I’ve got a few seedlings from that fruit, and will attempt to select a hardier male.

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