Melodorum leichhardtii – Zig Zag Vine
Author: Glenn Leiper
Published: Journal September 2021
Image above: Melodorum leichhardtii fruit
A vigorous vine of rainforests, the Zig Zag Vine is so named because of the slight bends in the branchlets, showing a distinctly zig-zag growth habit especially in new or young growth. It also is referred to occasionally as Knot Vine because of its tendency to wind around itself creating knots in the stems. This common name though is more frequently applied to Hippocratea barbata which also displays this unusual habit assisting its climbing by using the knots to attach to surrounding shrubs, trees and other vines.
Zig Zag Vine will climb up into the rainforest canopy and develop into a substantial plant in the wild, so this needs to be recognised when brought into cultivation. It is distributed along the east coast from near Kempsey in NSW to Torres Strait (North Queensland) and west to near Roma. It is tolerant of fairly dry conditions, being found in not only sub-tropical rainforests but also dry rainforests and vine thickets.
Melodorum leichhardtii flowers
The alternate leaves, between 6cm and 12cm long, are fairly leathery and dark. These leaves are grazed on by larva of the fast-flying Four-bar Swordtail butterfly, the pretty Pale (Green) Triangle butterfly and the smaller Eastern Dusk-flat butterfly. Zig Zag Vine’s 3-petalled yellowishbrown 15mm diameter flowers are highly perfumed and produced towards the ends of the branches usually in a well-lit position. The orange oblong fruit, to 3cm long, contain up to four seeds, and are constricted somewhat between the seeds. When walking in rainforests in summer, it’s common to find the fallen fruits littered in large numbers on the forest floor.
Bush tucker fans such as myself, consider the fruits to be one of the best wild fruits to eat, with a tangy taste, but be warned – it’s prudent to eat them at night in the dark as they’re often packed with small white maggots!
In cultivation, this vigorous vine can be pruned heavily to maintain it into a shrubby form, but the pruning must be regular as it tends to put out long shoots frequently and seeks out nearby plants to climb.
Seed for this plant is available from our Seed Bank.