The Stinkvine! Paederia foetida

These pretty little flowers almost fool you into thinking this vine can’t stink!

Paederia foetida

Stinkvine, Skunkvine, Chinese Fever Vine,  Maile Pilau

Family: Rubiaceae

Native to temperate and tropical Asia

Naturalized in Melanesia, Polynesia and even Hawaii, though it is not native.  Considered an invasive weed in Florida and other parts of the Southern United States. It was introduced to the USA as a potential fiber plant in 1897. Oops!

Height: To 30 ft. though usually 20 or so.

USDA Zone 6a: to – 11. (Yep, really! That’s why it still thrives in Florida!)

From the looks of this baby you would not believe it stinks to holy hell (though its name would probably have tipped you off) because its delicate bi-colored flowers (white to pale yellow fading to pink/lilac and/or red) look like sweet little tubes of pretty. And that’s part of what makes this perennial, evergreen rotanical even more interesting. It’s flowers, actually, are not the fetid part. When you crush the leaves of this fantastic plant you get a horrid sulphuric smell, earning its name Stink Vine. The actual oils of the plant contain a sulphur compounds, including dimethyl disulphide.

Dimethyl disulphide is the same compound found in the Dead-Horse Arum and other rotten species that let off the smell of rotten meat in order to attract flies for pollination. (more on the Dead-Horse Arum next week!)

In Hawaii this is the main larval food plant for the Maile Pilau Hornworm, a hummingbird moth.

Interestingly, one of its common names Chinese Fever Flower, alludes to its other amazing properties. Ethnobotanically speaking, the Stink Vine and its sulphurous compounds contain a great deal of antioxidants and is used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory, an immune booster, and has even shown potential as an anti-cancer agent. In Indonesia the leaves are traditionally served boiled with rice and sambal, often by street vendors. The leaves are also high in calcium and Vitamin C and very rich in potassium.

If you want to read a very nerdy but wonderful study of the Indonesian variety of Paederia foetida, click this link.

If you want to try and grow it in your own garden you’ll have the best luck in coastal climates that are mild or hot and muggy climates like Florida and Louisiana. In the right zone it can apparently can survive the occasionally cold snap. You can find seeds here:  Georgia Vines

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4 thoughts on “The Stinkvine! Paederia foetida

  1. Interesting plant! I’m impressed with its medicinal uses, although I wonder just how foul a cup of tea made with its leaves would taste like. Have you tried growing it with any luck in our Bay Area climate?

    • gardeness says:

      I have not actually tried to grow it here, though I expect it would work in a sunnier part of the garden if you are in the fog belt. I think there is one growing in the SF Botanical garden. Apparently the stink comes out a bit in the boil…

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