Retracting grip of cat claw vines

                                                By Adrian Hanagriff

adrian-hanagriff-1The Headwaters Sanctuary adjacent to the University of the Incarnate Word campus has many different plant species, resulting in a high biodiversity.

Biodiversity has a positive effect on the community, but when overpopulation occurs, specifically in non-native species, it presents a threat for the current native species.

One non-native species that is overwhelming the Headwaters Sanctuary is the cat claw vine. We need to control the cat claw vine population by either removing them or keeping them isolated in an exclusive area where they can flourish without harming other plant life.

The Macfadyena unguis-cati — the cat claw vine — can grow up to 50 feet tall and, when in bloom, sprouts yellow flowers. The reason this vine is a problem for other plant life is its tendency to use its three-prong claws to grip and climb trees so it can reach the top. Not only do they pull the smaller saplings down, but they also suffocate the plants by blocking their ability to photosynthesize by covering their treetops and stealing the sunlight for themselves.

When I did volunteer work for the Headwaters Sanctuary, we were assigned the task of removing cat claw vines. Seemingly simple, I was surprised to find the large amount of vines in one area. One wilting tree had at least two vines on different sides of it where they eventually conjoined in the middle and created a thicker vine. To realize the large quantity of trees being affected came as a shock because this was one type of plant that was causing all this destruction. To see those trees encased with the vines and watching them slowly starve to death hurt deeply. Knowing the trees are helpless made me realize we need to rectify the situation immediately because it is imperative we restore the balance of the natural world.

It is possible to get rid of cat claw vines, but it can be rather difficult because they are resistant. One solution is to simply spray herbicides on them, but due to their close proximity to the other flora, the poison could still harm other foliage in the vicinity.

Susan Patterson, author of the article, “Controlling Cat’s Claw: How to Get Rid of a Cat’s Claw Vine Plant,” on the Gardening Know How website, suggests a more beneficial solution is “pulling it down from trees and digging up the underground tubers.” This method is more favorable because if the tubers are not removed, new plants will grow.

Cat claw vines will not disappear without a fight so it is best to check the area often to make certain they do not retaliate. We must take action because when these vines move into the biotic community they spread like wildfire, which will overpower the environment. Biodiversity is advantageous because it expands the variety of wildlife, which enlarges the food web. However, when there are too many non-native species entering the area, they will override the system.

Nevertheless, it would be unwise to completely eradicate the vines because they can provide us with herbal remedies. Patterson says these vines do serve a purpose, specifically as a medicinal treatment for arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, allergies and acne, amongst other things. As long as the vines are not growing on trees and other plants, but rather something that is artificial such as a fence or wall, we could have an area solely for these vines. We could breed them and they can provide us with medicine in return. Even then, we would not need many due to their rapid growth. We cannot have the vines spreading to the point where they cannot be controlled. As long as the vines do not overrun their habitat the environment will be balanced. These plants are not evil — their main goal is to survive. It is the same for every species; all they need is a special area where they will not be able to hurt other plant life.


It is not a daunting task. All it takes is some effort. We must be the ones to take action because the plants cannot do it themselves. It is our duty to be the guardians of the natural world because they need protectors.

Animals have the mobility to fight back against their enemies, but the same cannot be said for plants because they are rooted in place. Trees are at a large disadvantage, and there is already a rapid decline due to our demands. We need to slow the rate down. It is the least we can do after all. Trees give us our oxygen. Let us be the ones to make sure they receive theirs in return.


E-mail Hanagriff, a marketing major and third-place winner of a sustainability essay contest, at


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