En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Differentiating between Cow-itch vine and Balsam-gourd vine

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Friday - July 08, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Vines
Title: Differentiating between Cow-itch vine and Balsam-gourd vine
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

How can I tell the difference between Cow-itch vine and Balsam-gourd vine?

ANSWER:

Cow-itch vine (Cissus trifoliata), a member of the Family Vitaceae (Grape Family) and Balsam-gourd vine (Ibervillea lindheimeri), a member of the Family Cucurbitaceae (Cucumber Family) are easily confused since they have foliage that looks very similar. Here are some tips on telling them apart.

1. Cow-itch leaves are typically, but not always, fleshier than Balsam-gourd leaves.

2. The stem of Cow-itch vine is also usually fleshy, soft and brownish in color; while a Balsam-gourd vine stem is normally thinner, stringier, and green. This may be the easiest recognition feature to use if the plants are not in flower or fruit.

3. The crushed foliage and stems of Cow-itch exudes a foul, burnt rubber odor, while Balsam-gourd does not. However, since handling Cow-itch vine causes contact dermatitis on some people, caution should be exercised if you're not sure about your own sensitivity to it.

4. The tendrils on Cow-itch emerge from the stem opposite the leaf axil, while on Balsam-gourd the tendrils emerge in or next to the leaf axil. Distinguishing the species by this feature is not always certain because of variability within individuals. The tendrils have another characteristic that is often useful but not always sure. The tendrils of Cow-itch tend to have more of a meandering appearance than those on Balsam-gourd. Balsam-gourd tendrils usually exhibit a more regular spiral, resembling the wire spring of an ink pen.

5. Cow-itch flowers are small, greenish and occur in large clusters. Balsam-gourd flowers are larger and showier, yellow to greenish-yellow and typically have one to few flowers per inflorescence.

6. The fruits of Cow-itch are small, black berries occurring in large clusters; while Balsam-gourd fruits are large, red and showy when ripe and typically occur singly at any leaf axil.

7. Finally, if you have access to a magnifying glass, you can see small pores on the surface of the underside of Balsam-gourd leaves. There are no pores on the underside of the leaves of Cow-itch.
 

More Vines Questions

Native vine for privacy on metal mesh fence from Houston
March 20, 2014 - Is there a native vine that does not get top heavy in order to provide privacy from the bottom to the top on an expanded metal mesh fence? It's okay if it dies back, but prefer for it to be evergree...
view the full question and answer

A Bounty of Edibles for New Braunfels Texas
October 25, 2013 - I was hoping you could suggest a few plants that would serve several purposes. I live in New Braunfels, TX and would like to incorporate as many drought tolerant plants which would support birds, but...
view the full question and answer

Conditions for wisteria bloom on Ontario, Canada
November 05, 2005 - I live in Ontario Canada, and about 4 years ago I bought a shrub which was called wisteria. I loved this bush when I visited a cousin out in British Columbia. The problem is it has no trouble growing ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of a vine with purple flowers
July 06, 2011 - I'm trying to identify a vine-like plant growing in my yard to determine if it is a weed or should be kept around. It has small purple flowers with a small yellow center, looking like a mini honeysuc...
view the full question and answer

Vine for Marin County, CA
August 31, 2012 - Looking for relatively fast growing evergreen vine (not Ivy). Plant along sturdy 7 foot wire fence. Mostly sun, some shade. Soil drains reasonably well. I had some success w/ star jasmine, but too...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center