Tetrastigma nitens

shining grape


Tetrastigma nitens

(F.Muell.) Planch 1887

pronounced: tet-ruh-STIG-muh NY-tenz

(Vitaceae — the grape family)


common names: shining grape, three-leaf water vine

native 4Tetrastigma is from the Latin tetra, four, and the Greek στιγμα (stigma), a brand, tattoo-mark, indicating that the flowers of the genus have 4 stigmas; nitens is Latin for ‘shining’.

This is a vigorous woody vine climbing by means of stems supported by leaf-opposed tendrils, which may be simple or 2-branched. It is endemic to Australia, occurring in Cape York Peninsula, north-east Queensland, and down the east coast as far as the central coast of NSW; it is found from near sea level to an altitude of 800 m. It usually grows in the rain forests, but sometimes in moist gullies in eucalyptus forests. It is capable of growing into a vine of considerable size – stem diameters of 15 cm have been recorded. The stems are often laterally flattened.

The leaves are palmately compound, with mostly 3 leaflets; the leaflets are obovate to broad-elliptic, 4 – 12 cm long, 2 – 6 cm wide, the apex acuminate to acute, the base cuneate, the margins sparsely and regularly toothed, or the teeth are sometimes reduced to hard points; they are glabrous, both surfaces dark green, with the upper surface glossy; the petiole is up to 5 cm long and the petiolules up to 2 cm. The petiolule of the middle leaflet is longer than those of the other two leaflets. New growth is a pinkish pale green.

There are separate male and female flowers. The inflorescence is small and compact; the cymes are umbel-like, 2 – 4 cm in diameter; the calyx is 4-lobed; the petals are 2 – 3 mm long, and greenish.

The fruits are ellipsoid to obovoid berries, 1.5 – 2 cm long and about 1 cm in diameter, blackish in colour, containing 1 – 3 seeds. The foliage must be in full sun for fruit to form. The fruit tastes similar to cultivated grapes, but contains tannins and alkaloids that may produce an unpleasant scratchiness in the throat.

The vine can produce vegetatively from bits of broken stem with nodes, but may stay the same size for some time before establishing, and then growing rapidly. Like ‘real’ grape leaves, the leaves of this vine are reputed to be edible after cooking.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2012, Horseshoe Bay 2014, Geoffrey Bay 2015
Page last updated 20th April 2019