|Cissus ivy has been a favorite houseplant of indoor gardeners for decades.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find at your local nursery since
only a few American growers are still producing it. But, Cissus is
well worth a search and adding to your collection of interesting indoor
plants and elegant hanging baskets.
I've grown several varieties of Cissus since 1975 when Rhapis Gardens was established as a producer of low-light houseplants. The first and most common type was Cissus rhombifolia known as "grape ivy" since the foliage resembles grape leaves and it climbs with the aid of tendrils. This sub-tropical variety has medium-sized elongated leaves, and thin stems which allow it to trail more than climb.
'Ellen Danica', a sport with leaves resembling an oak leaf, was the next variety to enter the market. Interiorscapers and plant enthusiasts discovered that these attractive plants did quite well in low light, and commercial growers from Florida to California added it to their production schedules. At one time, the huge Anatole Hotel in Dallas had 12,000 6" pots of Cissus decorating its massive atrium and cascading over the edges of balconies!
Alas, growers in Florida and Texas soon discovered that these two original
varieties detested summer heat, were subject to powdery mildew, and proved
to be almost impossible to root during hot months. Some California
growers found that cuttings required heat at night because of the cool,
moderate climate of the west coast which increased production costs.
A new form of "grape ivy" was then developed called 'Mandianna' which had much larger, thicker leaves on sturdy stems and would climb as easily as trail. It was resistant to mildew, grew like mad during cool months, and was tolerant of rooting during hot months. Since I'd given up trying to grow the difficult original "grape ivy" and 'Ellen Danica', we added 'Mandianna' to our production and were quite pleased with the new variety!
Along came a new version of "oak leaf" called 'Fionia' which had thick,
deep green, glossy leaves like 'Mandianna', and was much hardier than 'Ellen
Danica'. It proved to be extremely slow to root, however, and many
growers dropped it from production.
A quick word about commercial production here: Many greenhouse operations only grow plants which root fast, grow very quickly, and can turn a dollar the fastest. As a result, some excellent plant varieties do not stay on the market very long! This situation creates a great loss of fabulous plant material to indoor gardeners and future houseplant collections.
The improved varieties are very easy to grow indoors. Here are some guidelines:
WATER: Allow to become almost dry, then water thoroughly so that water drains out of the bottom of the pot. Do not keep Cissus continuously wet since this may encourage root rot.
LIGHT: Low to high indoor light will grow these plants quite nicely. Protect from direct sun which may result in leaf scorch or burn. The plants may "stretch" in low light situations, but simply pinch back once in a while to retain the bushy growth habit.
SOIL: Any well drained soil, such as African Violet Mix, will do fine.
FERTILIZER: Apply plant food at 1/2 rate three or four times a year (early spring, early summer, late summer, and fall). Let leaf color be a guide... dark green leaves mean that fertilizer levels are good. If you detect a slight yellowing of new foliage, apply an extra dose of plant food at 1/2 recommended rate.
INSECTS: Fortunately, no scale or spider mites or nasty little mealy bugs attack our Cissus. If it attacks yours, visit your local garden center for a recommended insecticide. Once in a while, "army worms" from my husband's nearby cotton field will find our Cissus and chomp a few leaves, but they are easily found and removed!
MILDEW: Our ivy no longer has this ailment, however, if it travels from
one of your plants to a Cissus, use a fungicide listed for powdery mildew.