I’ll never forget the first time I saw a rex begonia vine. At the Naples Botanic Garden in Florida, I spied it tumbling down over the side of a very tall container and I was awestruck. I had never seen a Cissus discolor plant before and fell immediately in love. I’ve had this beautiful plant growing in my patio pots or on my windowsill ever since. In this article, I’ll share the many virtues of this climbing plant. I’ll also fill you in on how to take care of it, regardless of whether you grow it indoors or out. Plus, you’ll learn three ways you can propagate Cissus discolor to share it with friends.
What is a Cissus discolor plant?
Cissus discolor is the botanical name for a lovely tropical vine known as the rex begonia vine or the tapestry vine. Through this plant is completely unrelated to actual rex begonias, the leaves are multi-colored and have an appearance very similar to a rex begonia, hence the common name.
A native of Southeast Asia, including Java and Cambodia, this vining plant is more closely related to a grape plant than it is to a begonia (it’s in the Vitaceae family). The genus Cissus has two other popular species in it: C. rhombifolia, a popular houseplant known as grape ivy, and C. quadrangularis, a medicinal plant with a thick stem. There are several hundred additional species within the genus Cissus, but most are not regularly cultivated by gardeners.
Cissus discolor has become a very popular houseplant, though in my experience, it performs much better when grown outdoors during the warmer months. I’ll discuss how to care for this plant as a houseplant and as an outdoor plant throughout this article.
What does Cissus discolor look like?
If left to ramble and climb, the tendrils of the rex begonia vine grow between 8 and 10 inches long. The elongated heart-shaped leaves have striking variegation. They are a rich, dark green with a silvery white in between the leaf veins. The center of the leaves, their outer margins, and the underside of the leaf are a deep burgundy wine color. When they first emerge, young leaves are solid burgundy.
The thin, wiry stems twine around trellises or fences, climbing upwards as they do. But, if you grow this plant in a hanging basket or a tall decorative pot, instead of growing up, the vines will cascade down over the side of the pot in a glorious waterfall of colorful foliage.
Should you grow Cissus discolor indoors or outside?
It’s important to know that how to care for Cissus discolor depends on whether you plan to grow it indoors or out. It is a perennial vine that will live for many years if it is not exposed to any freezing temperatures. In fact, a low temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit is as much cold as it can handle. It much prefers warm temperatures.
Many gardeners who grow it outdoors treat it as an annual. They enjoy their rex begonia vine from spring through fall and then toss it on the compost pile at the end of the season. But, if you want to enjoy this beautiful plant for many years, either grow it indoors as a houseplant full-time or grow it outdoors during the warm season and then move it indoors when cool temperatures arrive. Let’s talk about caring for it in both situations.
The best light for rex begonia vine when growing indoors
First, let’s talk about the best light for Cissus discolor when it is grown as a houseplant year-round. If you have a hanging basket or a table-top pot of this plant, it will need bright but not direct sunlight. An east-facing window is ideal, where it will get a high level of morning sun but not blasting sun in the afternoon. A second-best choice is a south-facing window. However, place your Cissus discolor pot several feet back from the window if it is south-facing. The light should be bright, but the sun’s rays should not directly hit the leaves. This is a tropical plant that grows in the understory, beneath large trees, and climbs up the branches.
Now let’s talk about the best light for Cissus discolor if it’s only indoors during the winter. After your plant has summered outdoors, move it into a bright window. I suggest cutting the plant back by half of its length before moving it indoors. It will be a shock for the plant to go from outdoor conditions to the interior of your home and some of the leaves may yellow and drop. Don’t be too worried about this as it’s a natural part of the transition from one light level to another. Again, bright but indirect sunlight is best.
Growing Cissus discolor outdoors
Before we get to watering and fertilizing tips, let’s talk about how to care for it if you are growing it outdoors. As previously mentioned, this plant does not tolerate cold temperatures. Do not take it outdoors until the danger of frost has long passed. I don’t take mine outdoors in my Pennsylvania garden until early June. You can grow it in a container of its own, or combine it with other foliage or flowering plants in a large decorative pot. Place it near a fence, trellis, pole, or close to arbors if you’d like to watch it climb.
The best light level for a rex begonia vine growing outdoors is partial shade. Morning or afternoon sun is ideal; avoid the hot blasting afternoon sun. This vine thrives in humid, tropical weather.
Rex begonia vine watering
When to water your rex begonia vine is also dependent on whether you are growing it indoors or out, along with what time of year it is. Here are all the details you’ll need to know when it comes to watering Cissus discolor.
When growing outdoors: I water my rex begonia vine whenever I water my other patio pots. There’s nothing fancy you have to do with it. Just keep the potting mix moist and use regular hose water to do the job. If the plant is growing in a hanging basket or another smaller pot by itself, you’ll need to water it daily during hot weather. If it’s in a large decorative container that holds more potting soil, every few days will suffice. Since the pot will not be in full sun, it won’t dry out as quickly. Make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.
When growing indoors: How often to water indoor-grown plants depends on whether it’s growing indoors all the time or if you just moved it inside for the winter. Here’s more:
- When growing Cissus discolor indoors year-round, water it when the soil is dry to the touch. Pots less than 8 inches in diameter will likely need to be watered every 8-10 days. Larger pots will need to be watered every 10 to 14 days. Make sure there is no water sitting in a drainage saucer beneath the pot. They don’t like “wet feet.”
- When growing it indoors only for the winter, water it very sparingly. The plant will shift into a semi-dormancy and won’t require as much water. Once every 4 weeks will suffice. I’ve even stuck this plant in my garage for the winter and watered it only once the entire time. It went into dormancy, dropped most of its leaves, and then sprouted new growth again when I moved it back outdoors in the spring. It’s not as fussy as most people think.
Fertilize rex begonia vines every 3 or 4 weeks from spring through late summer. Do not fertilize in the autumn or winter because the plant is not in an active state of growth. Use an organic liquid fertilizer (I like this one or this one) formulated for houseplants. If you are growing it outdoors in a pot mixed with other plants, fertilize it whenever you fertilize all your containers. It isn’t picky. Occasionally the vine will produce flowers. They are fairly nondescript and nothing noteworthy. Nevertheless, they are fun to see.
Should you prune a Cissus discolor vine?
If you are growing this vine outdoors in the summer, I recommend trimming it in the fall when you are ready to move it indoors. Cut it back by about half with a sharp needle-nose pruner. It will be easier to move and won’t try to gobble up your living room. Transplanting is best done in the early spring.
If you are growing Cissus discolor as a houseplant year-round, you can prune it pretty much anytime the vines step out of bounds. It’s fun to watch them extend their reach, but sometimes the go a bit overboard. When this happens, don’t feel bad about giving them a haircut. In fact, when you do, you can use the trimmings to start new plants to share with friends. Which brings us to our next topic: propagating the plants.
How to propagate the rex begonia vine
There are three ways you can propagate this plant. All three of them are easy and fun. Before I explain each method, it’s important to know that you’ll need to remember which end of the stem piece (called a cutting) is the terminal end and which end was closest to the roots. If you try to root the stem piece upside down, it won’t work.
- Stem cuttings rooted in water. Cissus discolor is easy to propagate in water. Simply cut off a piece of the stem about 6 inches long. It should contain between 3 and 4 leaves. Remove all but the top leaf and sink the base of the cutting (the end that was closest to the roots) into a jar of water by 1 to 2 inches. Roots will form within 4 to 6 weeks. At that time, you can pot up the cutting in a clean container filled with well draining sterile potting soil.
- Stem cuttings rooted in soil. Prepare your cutting as described above. Dip the bottom 1 inch of stem in rooting hormone. Then insert the hormone-dusted end into a clean 3-inch pot filled with sterile potting soil. Cover the entire pot and plant with a clear plastic baggie to maintain high humidity. Water as needed. The cutting will form roots within 4 to 6 weeks at which time you can remove the bag.
- Layering. Cissus discolor is one of those cool plants that is capable of producing roots all along its stem wherever a leaf node contacts soil. A leaf node is the place on the stem where the leaf is connected to it. At that juncture, roots can form. To propagate it through layering, pin the vine to the surface of a pot filled with sterile potting soil using a hairpin or a piece of bent wire. Keep the pot moist and within a few weeks, roots will form at the pinned leaf node. Then you can cut that section of vine off of the mother plant and grow it as a separate plant.
One final thought
Before I send you off to enjoy growing your own rex begonia vine plant, you should know that this plant is not expensive nor is it difficult to grow. You can source one here. It is not a fast grower but moderate. While I love it as a houseplant, I really think this plant shines outdoors in the summer. Because of that, I recommend summering it outdoors if you can and then enjoying it in your home during the winter months.
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