Milkweed Vine, Latexplant, Strangler Vine

Milkweed Vine, Morrenia odorata

 Morrenia odorata: Menace or Manna?

One spring I was looking for poke weed when I spied a liana I had not seen before. It had a large fruit that looked like a chayote, but it wasn’t a chayote. I took it home, but was doubtful. It was clearly in the milkweed family and local vines in that family aren’t edible.

Morrenia odorata’s blossoms

A couple of hours of researching and I identified the plant, a horrible weed of no redeeming value. It was first spotted in an Orange grove owned by Donald. J. Nicholson near Orlando (Florida) in 1957, apparently an escaped ornamental though the original plant was never found so how can they say it was an escaped ornamental? I suspect it was for food. I subsequently found a 1971 report that said it was cultivated in Pasco County Florida in 1939 and escaped from there and was first seen in a citrus grove in 1957. That’s when it came to the state’s attention and why it was “discovered” in 1957.  Whether 1939 or 1957 it started showing up in the lower two-thirds of the state threatening citrus groves. It climbs on the trees and reduces their production, can even kill them via shade. There was no mention of it in Cornucopia II or Edible Plants of North America or any other of the five dozen books I had.  So I disposed of it and deleted my pictures.

A few months later someone on a forum wondered what it was called. I couldn’t remember and I couldn’t find it again on the Internet. About a year after I first found it I was still irritated that I hadn’t found it again. I worked on it for several hours one day until I hit pay dirt.  This time I also found one reference to it as being edible.  That opened the door. The report was in the Journal Economic Botany, and they wanted some $38 to download the article. As I as going to Tarpon Spring for the annual Greek epiphany event — 132 miles away — I dropped by the University of South Florida on my way back (USF was named when Tampa WAS south Florida.) I rummaged around the bound copies of the journal and found the article. It said the Morrenia odorata ( mor-RE-nee-ah oh-duh-RAY-tuh) was very edible. Highly esteemed in South America. I wonder how that was missed all these years in Florida?  A January 2007 report on the plant by the state does not mention edibility.

In the Journal of Economic Botany Professor Pastor Arenas says all of the Morrenia species are edible. To quote the researcher:

“The fruit is the plant part most commonly eaten, but, with the exceptions of the roots, all the other organs are consumed, though the different ethnic groups vary in their preferences… The resource is prepared in various ways: Either raw, in salads, boiled, or roasted. Non-indigenous settlers use only the fruit and seeds, with which they prepare several dishes, including “doca jam,” a regional dessert made with the fruit…. The indigenous population considers it to be a very wholesome food and, despite the loss of many elements of their traditional diet, this plant continues to be highly valued. Although it is a wild plant, it is protected and even cultivated by several ethnic groups….”

According to Arenas’ monograph three native tribes eat the flowers raw. Sometimes they boil the vanilla-scented flowers, squeeze out the extra water, then mix them with oil. One group pounds the flowers and young leaves in a mortar with a little water and salt, making a salad.  Three groups eat the leaves raw, another takes the leaves and the young shoot ends and make them into a crown shape. They boil it in a pan. Then the ring is drained and eaten dipped in oil. Two groups form the raw leaves, stalks and flowers into a bunch to use to absorb a preparation made of salt, wild pepper (Capsicum chacoense) and water. The bunch is dipped in the liquid and sucked until the liquid is gone.

Charles Morren, 1807-1858

Arenas reports the tender, immature fruits, (which I will call a vegetable) are eaten without preparation. They are consumed whole and raw. Sometimes they are mashed in a mortar, seasoned with salt and pepper. One group mixes the mashed fruit with cactus (Opuntia chakensis) which resembles bitter lemon.  Not that much raw fruit can be eaten at one time because the latex in the vegetable can irritate the mouth. The seed and hairs (coma) of mature vegetable are not eaten. Depending upon the age of the vegetable it is boiled or roasted (30 minutes or so) and usually eaten with oil.

The soft stems and the ends of young shoots are often eaten with the leaves and flowers. The adult stem is a famine food, boiled until soft, the outside removed, and then eaten with oil. No fibrous or woody parts are consumed. The vine bears continuously so there can be young and mature pods on the same vine. They are collected with a long pole with a hook on the end, similar to how Ear Tree pods are collected. Extra vegetables are roasted then split in two, dried over heat or in the sun then stored once desiccated. They are reconstituted by a brief boiling then eaten with oil.

The M. odorata has other uses besides culinary. The sap can be used to curdle milk for cheese making, and there are numerous medicinal applications as well.  A decoction of the plant plus roots was used to induce lactation. The latex is used to remove warts, calm toothaches and used against snake bite. The plant, interestingly, is toxic to cows and usually fatal. The sap can be used as a glue.  Nutritionally the vegetable is close to squash but has a Vitamin C content closer to citrus. In fact, it has more Vitamin C than oranges.

While a staple food in Brazil and Argentina (first described in 1838) in the United States it is a “weed,” that is, on nearly every possible weed list, federal to state to local. It’s a costly vine to the citrus industry and efforts continue to find ways to kill it off. Incidentally, monarch butterflies like it but it is also a breeding ground for flies that ruin papaya.

Edmond Albius

Odorata means sweet-smelling or fragrant. Morrenia was a bit of a challenge. It was named for Belgian botanist Charles Morren, (1807-58) a professor at the University of Liege. Morren discovered how to artificially pollination vanilla. Folks had tried for 300 years to do it. His method is still the one used, per se. What he did was watch the flower. A tiny sociable bee without a stinger — the  Melipona Bee– came along, lifted a little flap and went into the flower. It is the only insect that does that.  But it took a 12-year-old slave, Edmond Albius, to figure out a simple way to do it with a little stick and his thumb.  So the genus should be called Albiusa.

My friend, Marabou Thomas, says cooked the vegetable tastes “like some crazy combination of potato and zucchini marinated in honey.”  My older pallet doesn’t pick up the honey notes but it is delicious. I am convinced that if folks knew how tasty the M. odorata is the state would not have to spend millions to keep it in check.

In extreme southern Florida or farther south you might confuse the Morrenia odorata with Cynanchum cubense. The blossoms of  the C. cubense do not have star-like sepals.  Also north of Florida don’t confuse it with the Cynanchum laeve, which has similar leaves and vine but smooth milkweed-like pods. I get a huge amount of mail from folks finding the Cynanchum laeve thinking it is the Morrenia odorata. They read “milkweed” and “vine” and don’t bother to learn that M. odorata fruit looks like a roundish squash, and C. laeve is a smooth pod.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Milkweed Vine

IDENTIFICATION: Morrenia odorata: A perennial, leaves grow in pairs on stems, grey-green, slight fuzzy texture.  New leaves on new growth heart-shaped to 5 inches, older vines pointy, broad base, smaller. Flowers greenish-white,  small, five small petals, fragrance reminds some of vanilla. Fruit large seed pod, resembles a chayote, or a papaya, or an avocado in shape, mature pods 5 to 6 inches long, 3 to 4 inches wide, green until ripe then yellow, tan, or brown, will split open.

TIME OF YEAR: Blooms heavily in mid-spring, fruits continuously, can over winter if no frosts or freezes.

ENVIRONMENT: Rain forests to dry forests, groves, anything it can climb on, bushes, trees, fences, wires.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous: Young leaves, fruit, flowers and shoot tips raw, older fruits boiled or roasted in embers (usually 30 minutes)  Older stalk boiled and peeled.  Older green fruit can be dried and preserved.  Unripe seeds and coma are edible. Ripe seeds and coma are not edible.  When roasted the inner rind flavor is similar to squash. When boiled it is more like zucchini/potatoes.

There used to be a video on You Tube of  women collecting, preparing and eating the Morrenia odorata in Argentina. Apparently that has been deleted. Here is my video about it. 



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{ 33 comments… add one }
  • ~k~ October 13, 2011, 11:53 am

    Absolutely LOVE your site & what you’re doing here! Been stumbling round the great outdoors foraging for many years now, but only just stumbled onto your wisdom about a year ago & have watched almost all of your foraging videos (ok, so it was a marathon session spanning two days… could NOT stop watching/learning lol); thanks SO much for all the time put into this, for all the incredible knowledge collected into one spot ~xOx~ Just want you to know how much it’s appreciated 😉

    Now for the question: I have what I am positive is honey vine milkweed growing nearby. Did quite a bit of searching/reading online (this site as well, of course) & cannot find anything on edibility. Do you know about this particular milkweed?

    • Green Deane October 13, 2011, 2:45 pm

      Thanks for writing Kingsnake… and the compliments. It looks like you have Cynanchum laeve aka Ampelamus albidus. I get asked about it often. None of my published references on edibles mentions the species. More so I have two ethnobotanical books and a third written by an ethnobotanist and none of them mention any use by the natives for the vine. That strongly suggests they did not have a use for it. Until proven otherwise I would view it as not ..NOT… edible

  • Autumn October 20, 2011, 8:30 pm

    I just love your site and I watch your videos often!
    I believe I have found a Morrenia odorata vine with fruit growing on a public fence down the street from my house. I picked a fruit, curious of what it was. It leaked a white sappy substance from the top where I picked it. It looks much like a Florida avocado yet it grows on a vine. I googled and found what it is called, then came to your site to learn if it is edible. If it has green fruit, are they ripe enough to eat? It looks exactly like the picture of Morrenia odorata on google. Thanks 🙂

    • Green Deane October 20, 2011, 8:40 pm

      Thanks… The first question I would ask is where do you live? If it is where Morrenia odorata grows I’d ask if you could send me a picture. If you can I can give you an address to send it.

      • Autumn October 21, 2011, 6:14 pm

        Hello. I can send you a picture, no problem 🙂 I live in Port Richey Florida. 🙂

        • Green Deane October 21, 2011, 11:21 pm

          Well, that’s good news. I get emails from folks in northern climes where it does not grow but they think they may have it.

  • Sunny Savage November 22, 2011, 9:13 pm

    thank you Green Deane! I miss you…hope you’re well. We just landed in Bocas del Toro, Panama and I am so excited to learn about more tropicals….planning to stay for several months. I remember the milkweed vine you me on one of your tours. Sounds delicious!

    thanks for all your great work, ~sunny

    • Green Deane November 23, 2011, 7:48 am

      Glad to hear all is well… that’s a nice place to spend the winter…. enjoy the Morrenias.

  • GTmunch February 7, 2012, 9:37 pm

    I found this one growing on a fence around a canal in Orlando not a week ago. Like you, this one caught me off guard, as I was completely unfamiliar with it. I could not find any information about it until I found this website. I will revisit that fence to see if there are any more hanging around.

    • GTmunch February 20, 2012, 11:56 pm

      After sampling several fruits from this vine, I have found that if there is even the slightest hint of brown on the green fruit, the interior has become fiberous and the seeds are ready to pop out. You must find the small, completely green fruits if you want to eat them…

  • Feral Kevin February 23, 2012, 3:04 am

    How big does this plant grow? Can it take any frosts? Does it need lots of heat to ripen? Very exciting, I’m totally new to this plant. Thanks, Deane!

    • Green Deane February 23, 2012, 7:19 am

      It can climb a hundred feet to reach the tops of trees. As a tropical the above ground parts suffer from a frost but it will come back from the root. A ground freeze would be a killer. It will bear all year is not frost bitten or frozen back.

  • Andy Firk April 1, 2012, 8:36 pm

    Deane, besides Argentinians and Brazilians, I have met two Mexican migrants here in Arcadia, Florida that recognized the Morrenia odorata fruits as being edible in their homeland. Here is a weblink to a Mexican dish that includes some:

  • Sharon Boltz September 13, 2012, 9:38 am

    I believe I have a milkweed vine growing in my dwarf Meyer lemon tree. I just discovered two pods, look just like the picture you have except pale yellow green. Sounds like they may be ripe. Could I send a photo, and if so, to what e address?
    Thank you so much!

    • Green Deane September 13, 2012, 12:09 pm

      You can post them on the UFO page (unidentified flowering objects) of the Green Deane Forum.

  • Myriam September 26, 2012, 3:12 am

    A so interesting article! Thank you so much!

    I didn’t know too much about doca, and your article explains
    so well about the plant, the history…

    I searched about Doca because our assocation published this month
    explanations for making a string figure called “Doca”.
    Odina Sturzenegger collected this string figure from los Tobias Indians, Chaco, Argentina.
    The string figure represents the green oval fruit bisected by a deep crevice:

  • Sharon Snyder November 16, 2012, 9:21 am

    Just found your web site and am absolutly thrilled by it. I can’t seem to leave the site for more then a few minutes then I find I’m back at it again. I firmly believe wild foods may be the answer to the hunger I see coming to the US. Not because of lack of food but lack of transportation to get the food where needed. I hope and pray I am wrong but better to know what to eat then to go hungey. To many governments control the masses through food shortages. Thank you you may be helping a lot of people to eat instead of be hungrey.

  • Adrian Brooks Collins November 22, 2012, 1:55 pm

    Hello Mr. Green Dean,

    So, my question is whether the yellow (Aloala) and lavender (Chiffon) hibiscus flowers are edible, in the way that the red Jamaica is made into tea.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


    • Green Deane December 11, 2012, 12:27 pm

      Without knowing the exact species I could not say but usually hibiscus blossoms are edible.

  • phyxlor January 12, 2013, 6:44 pm

    Thanks for the great information. I’m also in Port Richey. This vine started out really small on our fence, then seemed to conume it in a little over a month. It had a plesant smell so we let it grow. Then it made the fruit things and we were purplexed. It bled like mild weed (which since a child I was told was poisonus) so we just left it alone. After seeing your article, I’m curious. Do you think my vine IS morrenia odorata?

    • Green Deane January 13, 2013, 5:29 pm

      It looks like Morrenia odorata to me.

  • Perigreno May 11, 2013, 1:06 pm

    I was curious if it has a vertical or horizontal root? I found one and didn’t dig it up…

  • Perigreno June 1, 2013, 8:00 pm

    I planted a few seeds about two weeks ago and found that the taproot definitely grows vertically.

  • Rodger p. September 17, 2013, 9:06 pm

    I’m new to wild edibles, but EXTREAMLY interested. I’m starting out with plants more easily identified such as bull thistle and palm. I’ve been trying to do more research on the milkweed vine but almost all the articles I find that say there about the milkweed vine have pictures that seem to be of the Cynanchum laeve and non of my edible wild plant books have anything about it. Do you have any suggestions? I’ve also been searching for the winged yam too but so far just bunches and bunches of air potatoes. Thank you so much for videos. They are extremely helpful

  • bob dagit March 24, 2014, 10:03 am

    my first id’d at a private nature preserve near londonderry, new south wales.

    • Robin March 26, 2017, 9:13 am

      Very interesting that you have it on the other side of the pond also!

  • Kurt January 8, 2015, 3:06 pm

    I have one of these plants. A volunteer sprouted in a Laurel tree pot in the eve of my gazebo. I regularly eat the pods cooked. I much prefer them 2 to 3 inches, that is immature. The mature pods have fuzzy wings in preparation to expand in order to fly the seeds: that part is like trying to eat the fur on top of an over ripe artichoke, almost can gag or choke. The pods squeak when you slice them and emit latex. In a stir fry it very much adds body to the sauce, absorbs stock, thickens. The vegetable is almost meat-like in satiety. Eating a more mature pod expect fibrous, woody textures and be sure to cut them into small pieces. Bottom line get the pods on the young side.

  • Tyler April 22, 2015, 6:24 pm

    I’m blown away by this article! I grew up here in the hills of Pasco County pulling these milkweed vines out of our orange groves as a kid. I was always told and have been under the impression this was a poisonous plant and to wash my hands and not put them in my mouth after handling these vines! Even just recently I found one out in front of the house and was telling my wife about it. Now I’m gonna save it!

    Your site is awesome! Keep it up! I got turned onto your site last night after making a gardenia floral arrangement because I was curious what else you can do with them. Bet the logs on your site show I’ve been here ever since! lol

    • Tabetha January 25, 2017, 12:11 am

      One has to wonder if the real reason behind the myth of this beung poisonous is because it is a native plant eaten by the natives?

      No offense to the mostly white settlers, but perhaps they preferredto pedal their own foods and rejected the native foods (except in times of famine of course!). Afterall, if something grows in the wild in abundance that tastes like squash and potatoes is available, who is going to pay for food – who is going to work for food?

      Kinda makes me want to examine the list of invasive species (obviously, you have to take warnings about poisonous plants seriously…but that doesn’t mean you can’t do more research to be sure.)

  • Veronica June 9, 2015, 12:13 pm

    Do you suppose there are ones that do not fruit? Near me, in Thonotosassa, FL, growing on a fence, is one I have been watching for many years. I tried rooting cuttings and they all failed. I have yet to see the fruit.

    I first noticed it because of the blue-green, attractive leaves and then noticed a wonderful jasmine scent. Been trying to grow it here ever since.

    Recently I noticed a grove with many covering it. Fenced though…. Will still keep looking for the fruit.

  • JoAnn Hoffman December 1, 2015, 7:35 pm

    Love the article. FYI- DeVine, a herbicide fungus product for use in citrus groves. Top of page 6. I don’t know if it is still available. There must be some plants near me, I get seedlings rather regularly, but no nearby extinct groves.

  • Bill Schafer August 15, 2016, 2:28 pm

    Is there any documented cases of morrenia odorata having killed cattle? I tried to find a documented case on the Internet, but couldn’t find any. I couldn’t even find any on the asclepia said killing cattle.

  • Marvin Thomas December 16, 2016, 11:59 am

    I have been eating these for years now. My house is surrounded by orange groves and it isn’t hard to find them growing in the trees or even on a fence. I didn’t know anything about them when I tried them, but I cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, put a little olive oil and whatever type of seasoning you prefer and put them on the grill for about 15 minutes and scoop out the inside with a spoon and eat it. The taste is similar to a sweet potato when cooked but doesn’t really have a flavor when you eat it raw. I have cooked it and let some of my friends try it and they were amazed at how good it was. The good thing is that most people don’t realize that it is edible so it is plentiful in my area.

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