Macfadyena unguis-cati (now known as Dolichandra unguis-cati), or Cats claw vine, is a native from West Indies and Mexico to Argentina. In Florida populations have been documented in several counties, including Escambia, Alachua, Seminole, Brevard, Hillsborough, Hernando, and Dade counties. Cats claw vine gets its name from the 3-pronged claw-like climbing appendages that are used to grasp onto plants or surfaces. Cats claw vine is considered a Category I exotic invasive by Florida’s Exotic Pest Plant Council.
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Cats claw vine is a high-climbing woody vine that can grow up to 50 feet in length, often rooting at the node. The dark green leaves are opposite, compound, with small, wide leaflets that mature into ovate or lanceolate shaped leaves. Stems are vine-like and covered with lenticels. Tendrils are forked, with the tip being claw like. The flowers are trumpet shaped, yellow in color, 3 inches long and 4 inches across. These are solitary or in axillary clusters. Fruit capsules are linear and flat, roughly 20 inches long containing oblong, winged seeds that are wind-dispersed. Tubers are produced by both young and mature plants and allow for regrowth. This species is very similar in appearance to the native cross-vine (Bignonia capreolata), but the cross-vine possesses red-orange flowers.
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Cats claw vine is a long lived plant that grows relatively slow. As the plant matures, typically in its second year, root tubers and stolons form. Tubers and stolons can also form at each node if the vine is creeping along the soil surface. Pursuant to its rooting abilities, a dense mat will cover the forest floor and smother native vegetation. Areas that are susceptible to invasion to cats claw include river or stream banks, near human habitations, and undisturbed hammocks.
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The first step in preventative control of cats claw vine is to limit planting and removal of existing plants within the landscape. If possible, removal should occur before seeds are produced. Care must be exercised to prevent seed spread and dispersal during the removal process.
Inform the public to refrain from purchasing, propagating, or planting cats claw vine due to its ability to escape into natural areas.
Continuous cutting or mowing will provide eventual control, but this process could take several months or years to deplete the reserves of larger plants. During this process it is essential to prevent seed formation.
There are no known biological control agents for cats claw vine.
Current chemical controls include cutting the vines and painting the cut ends with glyphosate (100% solution) herbicide. Triclopyr may provide good control as well (100% solution as a basal bark treatment) or 1-2% foliar spray with surfactant.
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References and Useful Links
University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. IFAS Publication SP 257. University of Florida, Gainesville. 165 pp.
University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Electronic Data Information Source
The Plant Conservation Alliance’s Alien Plant Working Group. Weeds Gone Wild: Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER). Plant Threats to Pacific Ecosystems
Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plants Database
Ward, D.B. 2005. Putting a stop to the cat-claw vine infestation in Gainesville. Wildland Weeds 8(3):17.
University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant
Description modified January 2014 using Citation #1 below
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Cat’s-claw vine – Dolichandra unguis-cati; Macfadyena unguis-cati
Cat’s-claw vine is a high-climbing woody vine that can grow up to 50 feet in length. Cat’s-claw vine gets its name from the 3-pronged claw-like climbing appendage. Cat’s-claw vine thrives in full sun or partial shade; and in a wide variety of soils. Cat’s-claw vine forms impenetrable tangles of wiry, twisted stems; all with the small, claw-bearing leaves, catching other plants, clothing, or human skin. Cat’s claw vine clings tenaciously to any substrate, with adventitious roots and clawed tendrils. These are used to grasp onto plants or other surfaces. When the stems reach sunlight, at the top of the canopy, large tubular bright-yellow flowers are formed. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and yellow; 3 inches long and 4 inches across. They are solitary or in axillary clusters. Flowers are followed by foot-long capsules that produce innumerable wing-shaped seeds; thus further spreading this plants. Fruit capsules are linear and flat, and can grow to 20 inches long. They start out green and turn brown. Branches and runners and adventitious aerial roots. The dark-green leaves are opposite and compound; with small, wide leaflets. Leaflets are mostly 1 to 3 inches long; and oval to lance-shaped. Cat’s-claw vine forms a dense mat that will cover the forest floor and smother native vegetation. Tubers are produced by both young and mature plants, and allow for regrowth. Tubers and stolens form at each node, if the vine is creeping along the soil surface. Cat’s-claw vine can be confused with native crossvine (Bignonia capreolata); but only the cat’s-claw vine has the 3-clawed hooks. Cat’s-claw vine is very difficult to control; and can be a serious problem, once established in a natural area. Cat’s-claw vine is considered a Category 1 exotic invasive species, by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Cat’s-claw vine can be killed by herbicides, but not without killing the underlying structure. Cat’s-claw vine is found in more than a dozen counties in Florida. It’s also found in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. Eradication may now be impossible.
View more information and pictures about cat’s-claw vine as contained in the Langeland/Burks book, Identification & Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas.
View the herbarium specimen image from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects.
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1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition,
by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.
2. Strangers in Paradise, Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida, Chapter 2: Florida’s Invasion by Nonindigenous Plants: History, Screening, and Regulation, by D.R. Gordon and K.P. Thomas, pp. 21-37. Island Press, Washington, DC, 1997.
3. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know – Recognition Cards,
by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.
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