Cat's claw creeper (Dolichandra unguis-cati)

WEED ALERT: REGIONALLY PROHIBITED WEED
If you see this plant contact your council weeds officer, the NSW Invasive Plants & Animals Enquiry Line 1800 680 244 or email weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

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Impact

Cat's claw creeper was introduced to Australia as a garden plant, and has escaped to become a major weed of native forests and riparian areas in eastern Australia. Its climbing woody stems (lianas) cling to tree trunks, enabling it to grow into the forest canopy. In native rainforests it can overtop and kill mature trees, opening up the canopy for light-loving weeds. Cat's claw creeper competes with native plants by forming a dense above-ground mat and numerous underground reproductive tubers. It produces abundant seeds that are dispersed by wind and water.

Distribution

Cat's claw creeper is now widespread and common in coastal areas of NSW north of Sydney especially along coastal and hinterland streams in northern NSW.

The plant communities in Australia most commonly invaded by cat's claw creeper are riparian zones and sub-tropical and tropical rainforests. These include littoral rainforest and riverflat eucalypt forest on coastal floodplains, listed as endangered ecological communities in NSW.

Distribution map

Spread

Cat's claw creeper produces numerous seeds with papery wings that aid dispersal, particularly by water and wind. Although seed viability is low, seed production is high and some seeds produce multiple seedlings. Established plants can reproduce vegetatively from tubers and creeping stems. Detached tubers and cuttings may resprout in moist conditions.

Seed capsules mature in late summer to autumn, approximately 8-10 months after flowering. Seed begins to drop in late May, with peaks in July and August. Seeds germinate best when not buried and will germinate readily in moist leaf litter.

Roots start to develop tubers in their second year and plants may be well established before they start to flower.

Description

Cat's claw creeper is a perennial woody vine with numerous stems, generally up to 15 cm thick, which climb vertically and also creep along the ground and over other vegetation.

The leaves are opposite and compound, with a 1–2 cm long stalk (petiole). Each leaf has a basal pair of lance-shaped leaflets 2-7 cm long x 1-3 cm wide. The third leaflet is modified into a three-pronged tendril. Tendrils are 10-15 mm long with stiff tips that form hooks (like cat’s claws) that aid in climbing.

Flowers are large, yellow and trumpet shaped 4-8 cm long with lobes (sections of the petal) to 2 cm long. The flowers are produced in spring.

Its seedpods are long and narrow, 15-45 cm long and 8-12 mm wide. Capsules contain numerous two-winged seeds that are 2-4 cm long.

Underground roots are much branched and produce tubers at intervals along their length. Tubers can be up to 40 cm long and each one can produce multiple stems.

Habitat

Cat's claw creeper is native in Central and South America and the West Indies. It is widely naturalised around the world, occurring in southern Africa, south-eastern USA and Hawaii, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Republic of Cape Verde, Mascarene and recently in Europe. Cat's claw creeper grows in a range of soil types, but does not tolerate poorly drained soils. Plants are capable of surviving heavy frost but seed germination is reduced at low temperatures.

References

CRC for Australian Weed Management: H. Cherry, NSW DECC. 

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Control

Dense infestations of cat's claw creeper are very difficult to control due to its numerous lianas, abundant seed and ability to resprout from the tubers, sometimes for years. In selecting the most suitable control techniques it is essential to minimise adverse impacts on native vegetation and to encourage its subsequent recovery. The methods chosen should be adapted to the type of native vegetation invaded, stage in the restoration program, size and growth stage of the weeds and level of infestation. Weeding should proceed gradually as creation of large gaps can lead to further weed invasion. Follow up is essential. Regrowth should be treated before it reaches the foliage of the host tree, or the hanging ends of previously cut stems of cat's claw creeper. Regrowth may require treatment for five or more years and ongoing monitoring is needed.

Prevent cat's claw creeper spread

Identify locations where cat's claw creeper occurs as isolated plants or sparse populations. Remove seedlings and treat isolated plants or clumps first and follow up. Cat's claw creeper can spread along rivers, particularly from seeds dispersed by floodwaters. Keep uninfested areas free of cat's claw creeper.

Reduce established infestations:

Develop and implement a long-term weed management plan. Coordinated control programs involving neighbouring landholders can maximise effectiveness and reduce ongoing spread.

Biological control

Cat's claw creeper has been targeted for biological control in Australia and South Africa. Several biological control agents have been identified and are at various stages of testing and introduction. Australian releases of the leaf-sucking lace bug (Carvalhotingis visenda) and leaf-tying pyralid moth (Hypocosmia pyrochroma) have recently been approved. Community groups are involved in distribution of these biological control agents.

Physical weed removal

Even seedlings and small plants have tubers that are difficult to dig out and the large tuberous root mass of older plants cannot be removed without excessive soil disturbance. Tubers must be disposed of properly, as they will regrow in moist conditions in contact with soil. It may be impractical and dangerous to attempt to pull lianas out of the tree canopy and the upper vines are generally cut and left to die in situ. Cutting the vines does not prevent regrowth from the basal stumps.

Chemical control

Herbicide can be effective, providing it is carefully chosen and selectively applied when plants are actively growing. For mature plants, climbing stems are cut before herbicide is applied to the lower stems. The main herbicide treatments for cat's claw creeper are foliage spray and painting of cut stumps. Stem injection and basal bark application are less commonly used. Herbicide treatment should be undertaken in spring to autumn when cat's claw creeper is actively growing. Remember always to follow label directions when using any herbicide.

Foliar spray

Stems of cat's claw creeper are strongly attached to the trunk of the host, so it may be difficult to avoid contact with the host plant when spraying. Hand-held equipment (handgun and hose or knapsack) is generally suitable to spot spray prostrate stems and regrowth less than 2 m tall. It may be necessary to pull cat's claw creeper off native vegetation and spray the vines on the ground to minimise spray drift and off-target contact. The growing tips must be wetted with herbicide. The best time for foliar spray is when new growth is present.

Cut-stump application

Suitable for all basal stem sizes Cut all climbing stems well above the ground (1-2 m high) and leave the aerial parts to die. Cut all the basal stems again horizontally with secateurs, bush saw or a chainsaw as close to the ground as possible and paint the cut surface immediately (within 15 seconds) with herbicide, using a hand­held spray bottle or a brush. For large plants, a team of two or more people need to work together to treat each stem as it is cut. Stems less than 1 cm in diameter should be cut higher so that a 20 cm length of bark can be scraped off on one side of the stem and herbicide also applied to the sapwood. Use a dye in the mixture to show that stems have been treated. In some situations it may be necessary to treat the upper stems or detach them from host tree trunks to prevent them from resprouting.

Follow up and restoration

It is essential to monitor for regrowth from roots, tubers and stumps after physical or chemical treatment and follow up thoroughly. Spot spray regrowth before it reaches hanging cat's claw creeper stems or climbs on native vegetation. Regrowth may require treatment for 5 or more years and ongoing surveillance is needed.

Liberating mature native trees from vine weeds to enable recovery of the canopy is a key first step in restoring rainforest ecosystems. Even heavily infested sites may have hidden potential for natural regeneration following weed management. A planned, strategic approach is essential to ensure that after control, cat's claw creeper is replaced by desirable plant cover rather than new seedlings, regrowth or other major weeds.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Roundup®)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 50 parts water
Comments: Spray to kill regrowth
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2020
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Roundup®)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 1.5 parts water
Comments: Cut stump/scrape stem/inject
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 13914 Expires 31/03/2026
Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (Grazon® DS)
Rate: 400 mL product per 100 L water.
Comments: Hand gun spray vines on ground.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Picloram 44.7 g/kg + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump/stem injection application. Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm .
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Legal requirements

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Noxious Weeds (Weed Control) Order 2014 published in the NSW Government Gazette, detailing weeds declared noxious in New South Wales, Australia, under the Noxious Weeds Act 1993. The Order lists the weed names, the control class and the control requirements for each species declared in a Local Control Authority area.

Area Class Legal requirements
Ashfield 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Auburn 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Bankstown 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Bega Valley 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Bellingen 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Blue Mountains 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Botany 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Burwood 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Cabonne 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Camden 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Campbelltown 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Canada Bay 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Canterbury 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Castlereagh Macquarie County Council 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Cessnock 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Clarence Valley 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Coffs Harbour 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Cowra 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Dubbo 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Dungog 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Eurobodalla 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Fairfield 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Glen Innes Severn 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Gloucester 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Gosford 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Goulburn Mulwaree 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Great Lakes 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Greater Taree 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Gunnedah 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Gwydir 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Hawkesbury River County Council 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Holroyd 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Hornsby 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Hunters Hill 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Hurstville 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Illawarra District Weeds Authority 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Inverell 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Kempsey 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Kogarah 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Ku-ring-gai 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Lake Macquarie 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Lane Cove 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Leichhardt 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Liverpool 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Liverpool Plains 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Lord Howe Island 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Maitland 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Manly 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Marrickville 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Mid-Western Regional 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Moree Plains 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Mosman 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Nambucca 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Narrabri 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
New England Tablelands County Council 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Newcastle 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
North Sydney 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Orange 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Parramatta 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Pittwater 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Port Macquarie-Hastings 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Port Stephens 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Randwick 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Rockdale 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Rous County Council 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Ryde 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Shoalhaven 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Strathfield 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Sutherland 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Sydney 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Tamworth Regional 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Tenterfield 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed
Upper Hunter County Council 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Upper Lachlan 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Upper Macquarie County Council 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Warringah 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Waverley 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Wellington 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Willoughby 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Wingecarribee 2 Regionally Prohibited Weed
The plant must be eradicated from the land and that land must be kept free of the plant
Wollondilly 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Woollahra 4 Locally Controlled Weed
The growth of the plant must be managed in a manner that continuously inhibits the ability of the plant to spread
Wyong 3 Regionally Controlled Weed
The plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed

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Reviewed 2015

Flowering cat's claw creeper infestation
Flowering cat's claw creeper infestation (Photo: Royce Holtkamp)

Cat's claw creeper ground tubers
Cat's claw creeper ground tubers (Photo: Tony Cook)

Cat's claw creeper infestation
Cat's claw creeper infestation (Photo: Royce Holtkamp)

Terminal leaflets modified into a 3-clawed tendril (cat's claw)
Terminal leaflets modified into a 3-clawed tendril (cat's claw) (Photo: Royce Holtkamp)

Cat's claw creeper flowers
Cat's claw creeper flowers (Photo: John Hosking)