Ampelopsis aconitifolia


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NameAmpelopsis aconitifolia Bunge.

FAMILY: Vitaceae (the grape family)

Common Names: Monk’s-hood-vine, monkshood vine (1,2).

Etymology: The genus Ampelopsis is derived from from the Greek word ampelos, for ‘vine’. The epithet aconitifolia is likely a combination of Aconitum and folium (11), referring to the similarity of the leaves of A. aconitifolia to the leaves species of the genus Aconitum (Ranunculaceae).

Botanical synonyms: Vitis aconitifolia (9).

Quick Notable Features:
¬ Liana with 2-3 branched tendrils opposite the leaves
¬ Palmately compound leaves with pinnately lobed leaflets
¬ Cymose inflorescence of greenish flowers
¬ Yellow to orange round berry

Plant Height: Up to 12 m (9).

 Subspecies/varieties recognized (1):
A. aconitifolia var. aconitifolia
A. aconitifolia var. cuneata Diels & Gilg
A. aconitifolia var. dissecta (Carrière) Koehne
A. aconitifolia var. glabra Diels & Gilg
A. aconitifolia var. palmiloba (Carrière) Rehder
A. aconitifolia var. setulosa Diels & Gilg
A. aconitifolia var. tomentella Diels & Gilg

Most Likely Confused with: Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, Vitis ssp., Parthenocissus ssp., Aconitum napellus, Cannabis sativa.

Habitat Preference: Although largely a cultivated species in Michigan, it can grow in thickets and forest edges. Monkshood vine prefers open habitats, and in its native range it is found in grasslands, valleys, and shrublands (2,5).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: The Monk’s-hood-vine has been collected outside of cultivation only in Wayne County (2).

Known Elevational Distribution: In China, A. aconitifolia grows to elevations of 2200 m (5).

Complete Geographic Distribution: Native to northern China and Mongolia. In the United States, A. aconitifolia has escaped from cultivation in MI, NC, NJ, OH, PA, and New England. The species is also found in eastern Europe, in the Carpathian Mountains (2,3,6,12).

Vegetative Plant Description: A. aconitifolia is a fast growing, deciduous woody vine with tight bark bearing longitudinal ridges. The tendrils are 2-3 branched and borne opposite the leaves. The thin stipules are glabrous or slightly pubescent, brownish, approximately 2.3 mm long, 1-2 mm broad, and apically obtuse. The petioles are also glabrous, or slightly pubescent, and 1.5-2.5 cm long. The alternate leaves are palmately compound with 3 or 5 nearly sessile, pinnately lobed leaflets with irregularly toothed margins. The leaflets are lanceolate to rhomboid, apically acuminate, basally cuneate, 4-9 cm long, 1.5-6 cm broad, and sparsely pubescent below (2,5,9).

Climbing Mechanism: Monkshood vine uses its branched tendrils to climb (9).

Flower Description: The cymose inflorescence of A. aconitifolia is borne on a glabrous or slightly pubescent peduncle (1.5-4 cm long), opposite to the leaves, or less often borne on the tendrils. The nearly glabrous pedicels bear inconspicuous, greenish, perfect flowers developing from ovoid buds. The calyx is 5-parted and glabrous. The corolla is glabrous and composed of 5 oval petals 1.7-2.7 mm long. The 5 stamens have oval anthers. The ovary is superior, 2-locular, with 2 ovules per locule, and adnate to a well-developed floral disk. The style is cone-shaped, with a simple stigma (2,5,9).

Flowering Time: In Missouri, it flowers from July to August (5).

Pollinator: In the genus Ampelopsis, the floral disk is well developed and produces nectar (5,8), which may attract insects for pollination. However, no literature on specific pollinators has been found.

Fruit Type and Description: The round berries (6-8 mm in diameter) are yellow to orange and produce 1-4 (most commonly 2-3) seeds (2,5,9,14).

Seed Description: The globose seeds of A. aconitifolia are brown, 4-9 mm long, and 3.7-6 mm broad. The seed coat (testa) is reported as smooth or granular (6,13). The “chalazal knot [is] rounded, raphe [is] attenuate, ventral holes [are] furrowed upward 1/3 from base” (5).

Dispersal Syndrome: The fruits of A. aconitifolia are consumed by birds capable of seed dispersal (14).

Distinguished by: Ampelopsis brevipedunculata has simple leaves, often palmately lobed, and its berries are speckled and bright blue. The leaves of A. aconitifolia are palmately compound, leaflets pinnately lobed, and its berries are yellow to orange.  Vitis ssp. (grapes) have a characteristic shredding and peeling bark, the leaves are simple, the corolla is apically fused, and the berries are dark bluish to black. A. aconitifolia has tight bark, and the corolla is free. Parthenocissus spp. have unlobed and regularly toothed leaflets, the tendrils are 4-12 branched and may end in adhesive disks (especially in P. quinquefolia), and the fruit is dark blue-black. In A. aconitifolia, the leaflets are pinnately lobed and irregularly toothed, and the tendrils are 2-3 branched and never end in adhesive disks. Aconitum napellus (garden’s monkshood) is an erect herb with no tendrils. The leaves are similarly shaped (belonging to the genus for which the species A. aconitfolia is named), but the flowers are blue, zygomorphic, conspicuous, and shaped like a “hood”, later developing into 3 follicles. A. aconitifolia is woody and climbing, with greenish, actinomorphic, inconspicuous flowers, later producing a berry. Cannabis sativa (marijuana) is an erect herb with palmately compound leaves and up to 11 leaflets (3 or 5 in A. aconitifolia) with unlobed serrate margins. The flowers of C. sativa are unisexual (perfect in A. aconitifolia) and female flowers produce an achene (2,5).

Other members of the family in Michigan (number species): Ampelopsis (1), Parthenocissus (2), Vitis (4) (source 2).

Ethnobotanical Uses: Monk’s-hood-vine is used as an ornamental plant (6), however medical uses or plant edibility were not found in the literature.

Phylogenetic Information: The genus Ampelopsis is included in the Vitaceae family, in the Vitales order of Core Eudicots. Vitaceae is the only family in the order Vitales, and it is subdivided into two subfamilies: Leeoideae and Vitoideae. All members of the family native to North America (including grapes – Vitis ssp.) and Ampelopsis are from the Vitoideae subfamily (4). The genus Ampelopsis has “about 30 species: Asia, Central and North America, with most species in E. Asia and two species in SW Asia; 17 species (13 endemic) in China” (5). The genus is paraphyletic and divided into two subclades: pinnately leaved (sect. Leeaceifoliae), and simple or palmately leaved (sect. Ampelopsis). A. aconitifolia is within the simple or palmately- leaved subclade along with 5 other species, including A. brevipenduculata, its closest relative. Section Ampelopsis is closer to the genus Rhoicissus. Soejima & Wen (2006) conclude that “both morphological and phylogenetic data suggest that Ampelopsis needs to be redefined and the “Leeaceifoliae” group may need to be raised to the generic rank” (8). 

Interesting Quotation or Other Interesting Factoid not inserted above: A. aconitifolia var. glabra is reported as invasive by the Missouri Botanical Garden (7), and should be avoided as a gardening choice. A study in New England estimates that the species is potentially invasive there due to its similarity to the invasive Ampelopsis brevipenduculata (12,14). Erysiphe necator, a fungus that causes powdery mildew in many members of Vitaceae and one of the most damaging pests in California’s vineyards, also infects and damages A. aconitifolia (10).

Literature and websites used:

  1. Missouri Botanical Garden. 02 Jan 2014 <>
  2. Michigan Flora Online. A.A. Reznicek, E.G. Voss, & B.S. Walters February 2011. University of Michigan. Web. January 2, 2014.
  3. USDA, NRCS. 2013. The PLANTS Database (, 12/02/2013). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
  4. Stevens, P.F. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 12, July 2012.
  5. Chen, Z. & J. Wen 2007. Flora of China, Vol. 12. 7. Vitaceae: 3. Ampelopsis. Web.
  6. Bojňanský, V. & A. Fargašová 2007. Atlas of Seeds and Fruits of Central and East-European Flora: The Carpathian Mountains Region. The Netherlands: Springer.
  7. Missouri Botanical Garden n.d. Plant finder: Ampelopsis aconitifolia var. glabra.
  8. Soejima, A. & J. Wen 2006. Phylogenetic analysis of the grape family (Vitaceae) based on three chloroplast markers. American Journal of Botany 93(2): 278–287.
  9. Brickell, C. 2011. American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers. USA: Penguin.
  10. Bettiga, L.J. 2013. Grape Pest Management, Third Edition, Publication 3343. Richmond, CA: UCANR Publications.
  11. Mahoney, K. 2002-2014. Latdic.
  12. Herron, P.M., C.T. Martine, A.M. Latimer, & S.A. Leicht-Young 2007. Invasive plants and their ecological strategies: prediction and explanation of woody plant invasion in New England. Diversity and Distributions 13(5): 633-644.
  13. Latiff, A. 2012. Seed morphology of Parthenocissus Planch. and Ampelopsis Michx. (Vitaceae) and its taxonomic significance. Sains Malaysiana 41(12): 1503-1508.
  14. Martine, C.T., S. Leicht-Young, P. Herron, & A. Latimer 2008. Fifteen woody species with potential for invasiveness in New England. Rhodora 110(943): 345-353.

Image Credits (all used with permission):

  1. Image of leaves and tendril courtesy and copyright, Karl Gercens III
  2. Image of flowers courtesy of Jörn Germer
  3. Image of plant with fruits courtesy of Glenn Troester, at B & T World Seeds

PRIMARY AUTHOR: Cristine V. Santanna with revisions and editing by Robyn J. Burnham.
© Robyn J. Burnham
For additional information on Michigan Plant Diversity species accounts, please contact Robyn J. Burnham via email: rburnham“at”