How to Plant Cat's Claw Vine
The cat’s claw vine (Macfadyena unguis-cati) climbs as nimbly as the feline for which it is named, with the help of three-pronged, clawlike tendrils. Reaching heights of up to 65 feet, it covers itself with spring-blooming, trumpet-shaped yellow flowers, 2 inches long and up to 4 inches across, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 12. Evergreen in USDA zones 9 through 12, cat’s claw may drop its leaflets during winter in USDA zone 8.
A Cat with Nine Lives
Consider cat’s claw’s invasive nature before you decide to plant the vine. Because it produces underground tubers, it is difficult to eradicate and self-sows heavily. Drought tolerant and seldom bothered by pests or disease, it can cover a fence or building quickly, but may soon cover everything else within reach.
Let the Cat Out of the Bag
You can easily harvest seeds from a friend’s cat's claw vine if you wish to plant your own. Watch for the 6- to 20-inch pods to turn dark brown in fall. When one begins to crack open, extract its flat and papery winged seeds, storing them in a paper bag or packet where they will remain dry until you are ready to plant them. After sowing them on the surface of a container filled with damp seed-starting mix, press them into the mix without covering them, and swathe the container in plastic wrap to keep the mix damp. If you give the seeds temperatures near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they should sprout within three weeks to three months.
Room to Swing a Cat
For the best results, plant the cat’s claw vine in an area where its expansion is naturally confined. A narrow garden bed between a sidewalk and a wall, for example, will limit the amount of soil in which the tubers can spread and the seeds self-sow. Position your cat’s claw next to a wall, trellis or other structure on which it can climb in full sun or partial shade. If you are setting out more than one vine, space them 8 feet apart, preferably in moist and well-drained soil, though they will tolerate any soil that isn’t salty or soggy. Keep the vines watered until they are well-established, after which they shouldn’t require supplemental moisture except during very dry periods.
The Way the Cat Jumps
Cat’s claw attaches itself to any surface that isn't slippery and it has been known to climb glass. It tends to become leggy, so prune the vine just after it blooms, and lop some of the stems to near the ground. This will force new, lush growth at the base. Wipe the pruning tool's blades with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol before and after use to disinfect them.
- University of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension: Macfadyena Unguis-Cati
- U.S. Forest Service: Macfadyena Unguis-Cati (L.) A. H. Gentry
- Bionet-Eafrinet Keys and Facts Sheets: Macfadyena Unguis-Cati (Cat's Claw Creeper)
- Texas Agrilife Extension Service: Catclaw Vine (MacFadyena Unguis-Cati)
- California Department of Transportation: Plant Setback and Spacing Guide
- Desert Tropicals: Cat’s Claw
- The New Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- The Plant Book; Susan Page and Margaret Olds, Editors
- First Supplement to the Second Edition of Seed Germination Theory and Practice; Norman C. Deno
A former master gardener with a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Houghton College, Audrey Stallsmith has had three gardening-related mysteries published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House. Her articles or photos have also appeared in such publications as Birds & Blooms, Horticulture and Backwoods Home.