Cat's claw creeper (Dolichandra unguis-cati)

Also known as: cats claw creeper

Cat’s claw creeper is an invasive, woody vine with yellow flowers. It kills trees and shrubs and reduces food and shelter for native animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Cat's claw creeper is a perennial woody vine that:

  • forms dense mats that smother and outcompete native ground covers and seedlings
  • climbs over shrubs and trees restricting growth or killing them
  • can cause branches and whole trees to fall from the weight of the vines
  • changes water flow when trees fall into waterways
  • can create gaps in the canopy changing conditions for forest plants
  • reduces food and shelter for native animals
  • can damage infrastructure such as fences and sheds.

Cat’s claw creeper is listed as a Key Threatening Process in NSW because of its potential to impact on endangered and vulnerable plants as well as Lowland Subtropical Rainforest, which is an Endangered Ecological Community.

What does it look like?

Cat's claw creeper is a woody vine with many stems. It can climb up to 30 m high on trees and other structures as well as creep along the ground forming dense mats. Plants may be well established before they start to flower. There are two forms of cat’s claw creeper, the short pod and long pod. The long pod variety only occurs in Queensland.

The following description is based on the short pod form.

Leaves are:

  • opposite
  • usually in groups of two leaflets (occasionally up to 5 in young plants) on the end of a stalk
  • with a tendril at the end of the stalk between the leaflets
  • leaflets are:
    • dark green on top and lighter green below
    • 2–7 cm long and 1–3 cm wide
    • oval to oblong shaped with a pointed tip.

Tendrils are:

  • three-pronged with stiff tips that form hooks (like cat’s claws)
  • 10–15 mm long.

Flowers are:

  • yellow often with orange lines in the tube
  • 4-8 cm long with 2 cm long petals
  • trumpet-shaped with 5 fused petals
  • single or in small clusters growing from the leaf axis
  • present in spring.

Seed pods are:

  • green ripening to brown
  • 15–45 cm long and 8–13 mm wide
  • leathery
  • each filled with 40 to 80 seeds.

Seeds are:

  • winged with 2 papery wings on each
  • 2–4 cm long.

Stems are:

  • Woody
  • up to 15 cm thick.

Roots are:

  • extensive and deep
  • branched with multiple tubers that are:
    • up to 40 cm long
    • able to produce multiple stems
    • abundant, up to 1000 per m2.

Where is it found?

Cat's claw creeper grows in coastal areas of NSW north of Sydney.

It is native to Central and South America and the West Indies.

It is also a weed in southern Africa, south-eastern USA and Hawaii, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Republic of Cape Verde, Mascarene and Europe.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Cat’s claw creeper grows in subtropical, tropical and warm moist temperate climates. It can tolerate both heavy shade and full sun. It grows in a range of soil types but does not tolerate waterlogging. Plants can tolerate heavy frosts, drought conditions and saline soils. It grows:

  • in rainforests, eucalypt forests and woodlands
  • along waterways in coastal and hinterland areas
  • in disturbed areas such as roadsides and occasionally gardens.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Cat's claw creeper during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2021)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

  • Estimated distribution of Cat's claw creeper in NSW (Map: NSW Noxious Weed Local Control Authorities, 2010)
    Map shows weed distribution and density estimated by local council weeds officers in 2010.

How does it spread?

By seed

Seed pods mature in late summer to autumn and seeds start dropping from the vines in late May. Most seeds fall in July and August. Seed viability is low but seed production is high and some seeds produce multiple seedlings. The seeds germinate best when covered by moist leaf litter rather than buried in soil. The winged seeds can be blown in the wind and spread by water along streams and rivers.

By plant parts

Established plants can reproduce from tubers and stems. Roots develop tubers in their second year. Detached tubers and stems sprout in moist conditions. The tubers can be spread in flood waters or by machinery if the soil is disturbed.

References

CRC for Australian Weed Management. (2008). Weed management Guide for Cat’s claw creeper (Macfadyena unguis-cati).

Buru, J. C., Dhileepan, K., Osunkoya, O., & Firn, J. (2016). Comparison of growth traits between abundant and uncommon forms of a non-native vine, Dolichandra unguis-cati (Bignoniaceae) in Australia. NeoBiota, 30, 91-109.

Buru, J. C., Dhileepan, K., Osunkoya, O., & Scharaschkin, T. (2016). Germination biology and occurrence of polyembryony in two forms of cats claw creeper vine, Dolichandra unguis-cati (Bignoniaceae): Implications for its invasiveness and management. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 7(03), 657-670.

Osunkoya, O. O., Pyle, K., Scharaschkin, T., & Dhileepan, K. (2009). What lies beneath? The pattern and abundance of the subterranean tuber bank of the invasive liana cat’s claw creeper, Macfadyena unguis-cati (Bignoniaceae). Australian Journal of Botany, 57(2), 132-138.

Swarbrick, J. T., & Dreier, K. M. (1990). Cat’s claw creeper and its control. In Proceedings of the 9th Australian weeds conference’.(Ed. JW Heap) p (Vol. 125).

More information

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Control

Successful weed control requires follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful. The methods chosen should be adapted to each situation, size and growth stage of the plant, and level of infestation.

Freeing mature native trees from the vine is a key first step if you are restoring areas of native bushland.

To manage cat’s claw creeper:

  • treat isolated plants or sparse populations in areas you want to protect first
  • check for and treat regrowth from roots, tubers and stumps for at least 5 years
  • avoid damage to native vegetation and other desirable plants
  • encourage the recovery of native vegetation to complete with the weed.

Early detection

Actively check for new plants in uninfested areas and control these as soon as possible. Identify locations where cat's claw creeper occurs as isolated plants or sparse populations. Treat these plants first and remove nearby seedlings before working on dense infestations. 

Physical removal

When: Year-round.

Follow up: Before the vine begins climbing other plants, keep checking and treating for at least 5 years.

Pull stems away from any trees or buildings they are using to climb up. Cut the stems so that there is a gap between the part of the plant that is growing in the ground and the upper part of the vine. It is not recommended to pull the climbing stems out of tree canopy, as this may damage desirable plants and can be dangerous if branches fall from the tree.

Upper parts of the vine that have been cut, will eventually die. If some the upper parts of the vine continue to grow, check to make sure all of the stems have been cut.

Seedlings and small plants have tubers that can be dug out. Removing the larger, tuberous root mass of older plants can cause excessive soil disturbance and may not be suitable in all conditions.

Disposal

Tubers should be removed from the site as they can resprout. Contact your local council for advice on disposal.

Biological control

There are two biocontrol agents for cat’s claw creeper in NSW:

  • Carvalhotingis visenda, a leaf sucking tingid
  • Hedwigiella jureceki, a jewel beetle.

Both of these species feed on the leaves. The jewel beetles feed up higher in the canopy than the tingid so it is useful to use both agents. The jewel beetle is still being reared and released in NSW. If you would like more information about biocontrol for cat’s claw creeper contact your local weeds officer.

Chemical control

Spraying

When: Whenever new growth is present.

Follow-up: Before regrowth begins climbing too high

Where possible, when the vines have not grown too high, pull cat’s claw creeper down from desirable plants as it may be difficult to spray the leaves of the vine without also spraying the host. Use hand-held equipment to spray regrowth, seedlings and stems with foliage that is less than 2 m tall. This will minimise spray drift and off-target damage. Stems of the plant without leaves will not absorb herbicide. Spot spraying is often used as a follow-up control.

Cut stump method

When: Anytime but this method is most successful when new growth is present.

Follow-up: Spot spray any treated vines that re-shoot at ground level. Check for any missed aerial stems and treat using cut stump method as required.

This is the best method for large plants. Cut the climbing stems first, at about 1-2 m above the ground to clear a work area. Leave the aerial parts to die. Re-cut all stems as close to the ground as possible. Cut and scrape the stumps of thicker stems. Apply each cut or scraped surface with herbicide within 15 seconds.

Stem inject

When: Anytime but spring to autumn when new growth is present is usually the most effective.

Follow-up: Check for any missed aerial stems and treat using either cut stump or stem inject method as required.

Thick vines can be treated by drilling holes approximately 10 cm apart around the woody stem of the plant using a 10 cm drill bit. The holes are then filled with herbicide within 15 seconds. If large tubers can be found underground, these can also be drilled and injected with herbicide.

Scrape and paint method

Cut stems about 50 cm from where they emerge from the ground and leave the upper stems to die in place. Scrape a strip of bark off one side of the lower stems and apply herbicide within 15 seconds to the scrape. Use a dye in the herbicide mixture so you can see which stems have been treated.

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 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
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 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
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 (Various products)
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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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
All of NSW Prohibition on certain dealings
Must not be imported into the state, sold, bartered, exchanged or offered for sale.
Central West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Land managers to reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
Greater Sydney Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers prevent spread from their land where feasible. Land managers mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers reduce the impact on priority assets. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure*
The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. Land managers to reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
South East Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2021