Strongylodon macrobotrys (jade vine)

Strongylodon macrobotrys is commonly known as the jade vine, due to its striking blue-green flowers. The destruction of rainforests in the Philippines threatens this species in the wild.

Strongylodon macrobotrys close up
Close up of Strongylodon macrobotrys (Image: Brian Schrire)

Species Information

  • Common name(s): jade vine
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Habitat: Damp forests, along streams or in ravines.
  • Known hazards: None known

Taxonomy

  • Class: Equisetopsida
  • Subclass: Magnoliidae
  • Superorder: Rosanae
  • Order: Fabales
  • Family: Leguminosae
  • Genus: Strongylodon

About this Species

With its long cascading translucent jade-green flowers beneath a canopy of pale green foliage, the jade vine is one of the most beautiful and elegant of all tropical climbers. It comes from the rainforests of the Philippines, a scattered group of 7,100 islands in tropical Asia. It is a member of the same family as peas and beans (Leguminosae), and is closely related to the kidney bean and runner bean group (tribe Phaseoleae).

The plant has been grown at Kew for many years but, until 1995, it had never produced seed. After careful studies of the flower structure, scientists from the Jodrell Laboratory managed to pollinate the flowers successfully so that seeds developed.

Geography & Distribution

Restricted to the rainforests of the Philippines (Luzon, Mindoro and Catanduanes Islands).

Description

Strongylodon macrobotrys close up

Strongylodon macrobotrys (Image: Brian Schrire)

The jade vine is a woody vine with stems which can grow up to 18 m long. The leaves have three leaflets and are up to 25 cm long. The flowers are in pendent trusses (pseudoracemes) up to 3 m long, comprising many luminous blue-green flowers measuring up to 6 cm across. The flowers show modifications associated with pollination by bats. The shortly oblong or rounded fleshy pods are up to 15 cm long, quite unlike the typical legume pod, and contain up to 12 seeds.

Threats & Conservation

The rainforests of the Philippines are disappearing at an alarming rate – originally the islands were almost completely forested, but a 1988 survey estimated that only 20 per cent of the forest remained. The speed at which the rainforest is vanishing adds a sense of urgency to Kew's research into the jade vine’s floral biology.

How you can help Kew save the world’s plant life and habitats at risk of extinction

Pollinating the jade vine - calling Batman…

More Information
Strongylodon macrobotrys vine

Strongylodon macrobotrys vine (Image: Gwil Lewis)

Though the jade vine is a rare sight in the wild, British botanic gardens have had great success in growing it. It flowers happily here at Kew, at Cambridge and also at the Eden Project in Cornwall. However it is one thing to get the plant to flower, and quite another to get it pollinated so that the huge bean-like pods will develop to contain fertile seeds.

In the wild the jade vine is pollinated by bats, so when the plant is cultivated in a hothouse the horticulturalists in charge of it, using their hands, have to mimic the effect of bats visiting the plant to drink nectar. The bats hang upside down to sample the jade vine’s nectar, and the plant gently brushes pollen onto the bat’s head while it drinks. The next plant the bat visits collects the pollen from the first before brushing its own pollen to be transported elsewhere. It is a great example of co-evolution in action; the plant and the bat have evolved to work perfectly in cooperation with each other.

Strongylodon macrobotrys vine
Strongylodon macrobotrys vine (Image: Gwil Lewis)

In 1995, Chrissie Prychid at Kew used this technique to get the jade vine in the Palm House to make pods for the first time in over thirty years. The pods were so heavy they had to be supported with makeshift string nets to prevent them dropping off before they were ripe. Once we understand how to grow rare and endangered plants at Kew, it allows us to develop new techniques and expertise which can be passed on to local conservationists in our partner countries, so that in the future they can safeguard their own plant heritage.

Uses

The jade vine is cultivated as an ornamental plant.


References & Credits

Andrews, S. & Lewis, G.P. (1984). Plants in Peril, 3. Strongylodon macrobotrys. The Kew Magazine 1(4): 188 - 190.

Huang, S.-F. (1991). Strongylodon (Leguminosae–Erythrininae), a revision of the genus. Wageningen Agric. Univ. Papers 90-8: 1–69.

Polhill, R.M. (1972). Strongylodon macrobotrys (Leguminosae). Curtis's Botanical Magazine 174(2), t. 627.

Verdcourt, B. (1979). A manual of New Guinea Legumes. Office of Forests, Division of Botany, Lae, Papua New Guinea, Botany Bulletin 11: 1–645.

Kew Science Editor: Brian Schrire
Kew contributors: Olwen Grace, Sustainable Uses Group
Copy editing: Kew Publishing

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions. Full website terms and conditions.



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