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Combretum indicum (L.) DeFilipps 1998
pronounced: kom-BREE-tum IN-dik-um
(Combretaceae – the false almond family)
synonym: Quisqualis indica L. 1762
pronounced: kwiss-QWAL-iss IN-dik-uh
common names: Chinese Honeysuckle, Rangoon Creeper
Quisqualis comes from two Latin words: quis, who, and qualis, what kind of – what on earth is this plant? Many of the plants I photograph seem to come under this heading at first sight! It is thought that Linnaeus (or it may have been Rumphius) called the genus Quisqualis when he was uncertain as to which family it should belong, probably because it was variously described as a bush by some of the early plant collectors, and as a vine by others – see description of growth habit below. Indica is from the botanical Latin indicus, of India. The Kew Plant List has recently ruled that Quisqualis indica is a synonym of Combretum indicum.
This is a ligneous vine that can reach as high as 20 m, given something strong on which to climb. It starts life as a bush, and only begins to climb after it has developed ‘thorns’. Under good conditions, the plant will need pruning to keep it within bounds – it has the potential to become invasive. The simple leaves are elliptic with an acuminate tip and a rounded base. They grow to 7–15 cm long, and their arrangement is opposite. The plant bears thousands of sweet-scented flowers, that change their colour from white to red. Their scent is most noticeable at night. I have heard the scent described as ‘fruity’, and also as resembling that of toasted coconut. The flowers grow in pendant racemes, quickly changing to pink then red, making a spectacular show. The ‘thorns’ are formed when a leaf drops off but the petiole remains. In a little time this petiole stiffens, grows stronger, and becomes a very effective climbing hook. While not sharp, these hooks can make pruning rather tedious, and can draw blood. The individual flowers are tubular. The 3–3.5 cm long fruit is ellipsoidal, and has 5 prominent wings. The mature fruit tastes like almonds, and the seeds, 12–15 mm long with 5 ridges, are usually dispersed by water.
This creeper is found in thickets or secondary forests of the Philippines, India, Malaysia and New Guinea. It has since been cultivated and become naturalized in many tropical areas. There is a fine example of the vine in a Yule Street, Picnic Bay, garden, climbing to a height of 7 or 8 m and reaching above the tops of trees and other climbers; the photographs were taken of a more accessible specimen in Alma Bay.
The Chinese Honeysuckle has numerous uses in traditional and modern medicine. Decoctions of the root, seed or fruit are used to treat parasitic worms and to alleviate diarrhoea. A decoction of the fruit is used as a gargle to treat sore throats. The fruits are also used to treat nephritis; the leaves to reduce pain caused by fever, and the roots to treat rheumatism. The leaf juice is a remedy for boils and ulcers. The seeds of this and the related species Quisqualis fructus and Quisqualis chinensis contain the chemical quisqualic acid, used in neuroscience in the treatment of such conditions as spinal cord injury, strokes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Chorea, and alcoholism.
Propagation is quite easy by seeds, cuttings and layering. Suckers that emerge from the parent plant can also be used to propagate new plants. Besides being used to cover and decorate garden fences, trellises, arbors and arches, the vine can be espaliered on walls or pillars. It can also be grown in containers, and can be trained as a shrub.
It attracts butterflies and bees, and the caterpillars of the moth Ophiusa coronata feed on its leaves.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Alma Bay 2009, 2010
Page last updated 16th March 2018