Common Climbers in Hong Kong
by P. C. Leung and K. L. Yip
Introduction

Hong Kong, being located along the northern fringe of the Tropics and bordered on to the Pacific Ocean, experiences seasonal variations in weather conditions which furnishes surprisingly diverse and numerous climbing plants. Climbers, as different from trees, do not have a prominent trunk and canopy. As such, except the weedy Mikania to which recent public attention has been paid, many of us may not be aware of our climbing plants, even they are commonly found in our countryside as well as planted in gardens and on cut slopes as vertical landscape plantings. In fact, many climbers such as Climbing Bauhinia are noteworthy for the beauty of its blossoms. However, some people may consider that all climbers are weeds which have impacts to trees and natural environment. Their roles in maintaining biodiversity in our natural environment have largely been overlooked. Through the following introductions on a number of common climber species, it is hoped that the readers would learn more about climbers, as well as appreciate their beauty and characters.
 
Bentham’s Rose Wood
Family Fabaceae (Papilonaceae)
Species Dalbergia benthamii
Common name Bentham’s Rose Wood
Habits Woody climber
Description Leaves alternate, pinnate, with 3 to 9 leaflets. Leaflets are up to 5cm long, margin entire, glossy green above and below with silky hairs.
Flowers are small and white in color, grouped in upright clusters at the ends of the branches.
The fruit is a pod.
Flowering period February to April
Fruiting period April to May
Locality Commonly found in open woodland and entangling trees.
Distribution Gunagxi, Hainan and Guangdong; and also found in Vietnam.
Uses Fibers; medicine
 
Gairo Morning Glory
Family Convolvulaceae
Species Ipomoea cairica
Common name Gairo Morning Glory
Habits Perennial herbaceous climber
Description Leaves alternate, 2.5 – 8cm long, compound leave with 5 to 7 leaflets. Leaflets are elliptic with an entire margin and arranged in
palmate or digitate form. 
Flowers are funnel-shaped and light purple in color, either singly or in clusters stalked in the leaf axils.
The fruit is a round capsule, nearly 1 cm across.
Flowering period Over the whole year
Fruiting period Over the whole year
Locality Commonly found in lowland and roadsides with ample sunlight
Distribution Taiwan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan; and widely distributed in Afraid and Tropical Asia.
Uses Medicine; weed
 
Luofushan Jointfir
Family Gnetaceae
Species Gnetum lofuense
Common name Luofushan Jointfir
Habits Climbing shrub
Description Leaves opposite, simple and elliptic in shape; up to 15cm long and with an entire margin.
Stems hairless and branches with dump-bell shaped nodes.
Flowers are in axillary spikes. The fruits are borne in bunches, and changed from green to red when ripe, which looks like grapes.
Flowering period Summer
Fruiting period Autumn and Winter
Locality Commonly found entangling large trees
Distribution Guangdong, Hainan, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangxi, Guihou, Yunnan and also widely distributed in India and Southeast Asia.
Uses Vertical landscape plantings in gardens
 
Spiny-fruited Vine
Family Sterculiaceae
Species Byttneria aspera
Common name Spiny-fruited Vine
Habits Woody climber
Description Leaves alternate, simple, oval in shape, 10 – 20cm long and entire margin; hairless above and below with white hairs.
Flowers are small and arranged in clusters; pale yellow in color and marked with red inside.
The fruit is a round capsule, covered with prickles and hairs. Seeds are elliptic and black when ripe.
Flowering period May
Fruiting period  
Locality Commonly found in open woodland or its periphery and watercourse banks.
Distribution Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan; and also found in India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand
Uses Fibers; medicine.
 
Sour Creeper
Family Apocynaceae
Species Urecola rosea
Common name Sour Creeper
Habits Woody climber
Description Leaves opposite, simple, oval in shape, about 5cm long, margin entire; green and shining above and below with whitish bloom.
Flowers are red and very numerous in terminal spreading panicles. Fruits are in a pair of divergent follicles, with spots on surface.
Flowering period April to December
Fruiting period June to December
Locality Commonly found in open woodland or shrubland at Hong Kong Island, Tai Mo Shan and Lantau.
Distribution Taiwan, Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guihou, Yunnan and Sichuan; and also found in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
Uses Medicine; landscape planting.
 
Climbing Bauhinia
Family Caesalpiniaceae
Species Bauhinia glauca
Common name Climbing Bauhinia
Habits Woody climber
Description Leaves alternate, simple, bi-lobed with notched apex and base, margin entire and upper surface come into sight as pink colored.
Flowers are white and blossom in summer. The fruit is a non-bursting pod.
Flowering period April to June
Fruiting period July to September
Locality Commonly found in shrubland and woodland at hillsides.
Distribution Yunnan, Guihou, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi, and also widely distributed in India, Indochina and Indonesia.
Uses Medicine.
 
Kudzu
Family Papilionaceae
Species Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwi
Common name Kudzu
Habits Climbing shrub
Description Leaves alternate, compound leave with 3 leaflets, lanceolate or three-lobed in shape, entire margin and variable in size.
Flowers are fragrant, purple in color and arranged in axillary racemes. 
The fruit is a hairy compressed pod.
Flowering period September to October
Fruiting period November to December
Locality Commonly found in open woodland and shrubland
Distribution Wildly distributed in China, and from Southeast Asia to Australia.
Uses Medicine.
 
Chinese Feverine
Family Rubiaceae
Species Paederia scandens
Common name Chinese Feverine
Habits Climbing shrub
Description Leaves opposite, simple and variable in shape; with a pungent smell when crushed.
Stems long and much branched.
Flowers are pale purple in color and fruits are small and oval in shape.
Flowering period Summer and autumn
Fruiting period October to December
Locality Commonly found in shrubland
Distribution Provinces to south of Chang Jiang as well as the riverside areas. Also wildly distributed in Japan, and from India to Indonesia.
Uses Medicine; fibers.
 
Diverse-leaved Creeper
Family Vitaceae
Species Parthenocissus dalzielii
Common name Diverse-leaved Creeper
Habits Woody climber
Description Leaves alternate, shape varying from cordate to trifoliate; and margin coarsely toothed. Young leaves are red-tinged under ample sunlight but green in shade. In fall, leaves turn brilliant red.
Flowers are small and yellowish green in color; arranged in axillary clusters and leaf-opposed. 
The fruit is a berry, blue-black in color and with whitish bloom when ripe.
Flowering period May to July
Fruiting period July to November
Locality Cultivated. Commonly used as landscape planting for slope works. Also found on steep cliffs, hillsides and valleys. 
Distribution Taiwan, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Anhui, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Guihou, Yunnan and Sichuan.
Uses Landscape planting on vertical surface.
 
Cassytha
Family Lauraceae
Species Cassytha filiformis
Common name Cassytha
Habits Parasitic climbing herb
Description A parasite without leaves or roots but attaching itself to the host plants by sucker-like structure.
Stems long and wiry, yellowish brown in color.
White flowers are small and arranged in short spike. The fruit is a soft berry, white when ripe.
Flowering period May to December
Fruiting period December to May of the following year
Locality Commonly found in seashore or shrubland with ample sunlight.
Distribution Hainan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guihou, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian and Taiwan. Also found in Africa, Tropical Asia and Australia.
Uses Medicine.
 
References:

中國科學院中國植物誌編輯委員會,1959-2001。中國植物誌,2-80卷。 科學出版社,北京。
邢福武 余明恩(主編)2000 深圳野生植物。中國林業出版社,北京。
吳德鄰(主編)2002。香港植物名錄2001 漁農自然護理署出版,香港。
Thrower S.L. 1983. Hong Kong Climbing Plants. The Urban Council. Hong Kong