Menispermum - moonseed

Moonseed is a little known but very valuable and undemanding hardy climber with slender twining semi-woody stems. The name comes from the shape of the seed, which resembles a crescent moon. 

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Menispermum davuricum - fruits and leaves in autumn - photo Sz. Marczynski

The plants of the genus attain the height of 3 - 5 m. Tiling leaves are their main attraction. They are bisexual and in June-July bear inconspicuous, green yellow flowers, gathered in terminal clusters. Female plants, if grown in the vicinity of the male plants, set interesting, violet-black, small, round fruits, gathered in loose clusters. The berries are poisonous.

There are known two species of the genus: Common Moonsed (Menispermum canadense) and Asian moonseed (Menispermum davuricum).

Asian moonseed (Menispermum davuricum)
is more valuable and attractive. It has striking, large (10 - 20 cm in diameter), tiling leaves that are heart-shaped, rounded at the tip and have 3 - 5 barely discernible lobes, which can sometimes give the impression that the leaves have a form of a pentagon. The upper side is dark green and glossy with clearly visible veining, the underside blue-green. The leaves turn bright yellow in autumn. Asian Moonseed is native to eastern Siberia, Japan and China, where it typically occurs in muddy soil along stream banks and in thickets.

Common Moonseed (Menispermum canadense)
is native to north-eastern part of America. The leaves are oval to heart-shaped, with 3 - 7 angular lobes that are pointed at the tips. They are deep green on the upper side, with a lighter hue on the underside, and turn yellow in autumn.

No special pruning is required, but as it's difficult to cut dead stems from the tangle of the shoots, it's advisable to cut back the whole plant at the ground level every 2 - 3 years or after a particularly harsh winter.

Moonseeds are generally healthy and only sporadically attacked by diseases or pests. They have no special requirements and will grow well even in not very rich and moderately moist soil, but prefer sunny sites. They are generally frost-hardy (zones 5B-9), but in very severe winters the stems may freeze back to the ground. This doesn't pose a problem, however, as the plant will shoot vigorously the following spring.

Moonseeds can climb up a fence, various types of meshes or trellises, creating an excellent screen or a monochrome background for other plants with brightly coloured flowers. They are suitable for covering noise barriers, arbours, pergolas, gates and will do an excellent job covering unsightly constructions or buildings. They look charming overgrowing small trees. Since they propagate by root stolons, they shouldn't be planted in close proximity to perennial beds or other small plants.


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Menispermum davuricum - on a fence (summer) - photo Sz. Marczynski
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Menispermum davuricum - leaves in late summer
- photo Sz. Marczynski

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Menispermum davuricum - stems in winter - photo Sz. Marczynski
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Menispermum davuricum - seeds
- photo Sz. Marczynski

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Menispermum canadense - leaves in summer - photo Sz. Marczynski
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Menispermum canadense on a fence (summer) - photo Sz. Marczynski