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What is Cocculus?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Cocculus is a plant genus native to Africa, Asia, and North America. The genus consists of shrubs, vines, and small trees. It is estimated that there are fewer than 10 species, some of which have very extensive ranges in their native habitat. Some Cocculus species are cultivated as ornamentals by gardeners. People interested in growing these plants should be aware that they are considered invasive weeds in some regions, and they can be very difficult to eradicate if gardeners change their mind about planting them.

Plants in this genus are deciduous, losing their oval- to heart-shaped leaves in the fall. They produce white flowers in small clusters, and these develop into colorful red berries. As an ornamental plant, Cocculus can be used to add color to the garden. The vines can be trained on trellises or walls, and the plant can also be encouraged to have a more bushy, shrubby growth habit as a specimen planting or part of a hedge.

These plants like well-drained, slightly alkaline soil, although they are not very picky about soil consistency. They should be planted in partial shade to sunshine; in more northern ends of their climate tolerance, full sun is recommended to keep the plants healthy. Fertilizers can be used to control growth, and pruning can be used for shaping. Gardeners should be advised that these plants are toxic and can cause skin irritation.

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Members of the Cocculus genus can be grown successfully in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones five through nine. They are hardy and rugged, and will take to both wet and dry climates. Moonseed plants, as they are sometimes commonly known, are sometimes available from nurseries and through trades with other gardeners. People living in regions where these plants are native can collect seeds or cuttings and use them to generate starts for their gardens.

The problem with Cocculus is that it grows rapidly and tolerates harsh conditions. This is normally a selling point for plants, but can mean that the plant becomes invasive and hard to control. Even if people uproot the plant, berries can scatter, allowing seedlings to develop in the following year. The plant can also quickly outcompete native species, especially in fragile ecosystems. Gardeners should consider these issues before growing Cocculus and if there are no species native where they live, they might want to consider asking nursery staffers about safe alternatives for their climate.

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