En Español

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Non-Toxic Flowering Vine for Sunny Trellis in California
March 12, 2015 - I am looking for a flowering trellis plant that is non-toxic to my dog, will grow in the California area that I live in, and will be in full sun.
view the full question and answer

Shrub or Vine for NH Slope
May 11, 2013 - I'm looking for a native plant/shrub/vine that can be used to control erosion on a relatively steep slope in New Hampshire. Do you know of any?
view the full question and answer

Are Carolina jessamine flowers toxic to bees?
March 08, 2016 - Hello Mr. Smarty Plants, My husband and I recently planted 15 yellow Carolina Jessamine bushes along our back fence. Our hope is that it will vine up into the fence and give us privacy. I went online...
view the full question and answer

Perennial vine for full sun, Denton, TX
March 19, 2010 - I would like to grow a perennial vine that would tolerate full sun during the day. A flowering or non-flowering is fine. I do NOT want anything that is poisonous, i.e. Carolina jasmine, since this w...
view the full question and answer

Vine with 5 pointed deep lobed leaves and small white flowers
June 21, 2015 - I recently happened upon a very peculiar vine. It has 5 pointed very deep lobed leaves, that are semi hairy on both the top and bottom with small white flowers that emerge from the same part of the st...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center