En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Want a vine, non-toxic to dogs, for Reno, NV.
September 11, 2012 - I want a non toxic (to dogs) vine for Reno, NV
view the full question and answer

South Austin Groundcovers for Oak Shade
March 29, 2013 - Hi! I live in S. Austin now but used to work at the Wildflower Center! My backyard is shady with several oak mots. Do you have any suggestions as to what if any ground cover will grow in all that sha...
view the full question and answer

cultivating the invasive Passiflora incense
July 16, 2014 - Hello! I have been collecting passiflora for a while now, recently I purchased a "P. Incarnata" from a local nursery where I have gotten a few other species to grow along my herb garden recently. No...
view the full question and answer

Where in Texas can Vitis rupestris be found for collecting seeds and cuttings
July 27, 2014 - Where in Texas can I collect in the wild - cuttings or seeds from the Native American plant Vitis rupestris? Thanks!
view the full question and answer

When will non-native Confederate Jasmine bloom in Austin
March 03, 2014 - I have 2 large Confederate Jasmine plants growing in 3 gallon pots on either side of an arbor I built for my friends wedding. The wedding is in 1 month and I'm wondering if this jasmine typically bl...
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