Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The showy balloon vine

The balloon vine is a perennial plant from tropical Africa, Asia and America and was indigenous in the Bermudas, Florida and Texas. It is a climber and uses tendrils to reach the top of whatever it is growing on and often blankets vegetation completely. It has light green compound leaves and small white flowers that are produced throughout most of the year. 

Its most distinguishing feature is its fruit which is a green thin-walled, papery, inflated capsule that resembles a ribbed balloon which contains three black seeds. These capsules can be carried by wing and float on water.

The balloon vine, known in Maltese as sfineġ, was introduced in Malta as a decorative plant because of its fruit. It now grows in the Maltese countryside and although it is not very common wherever it sets a foothold it grows aggressively covering trees and bushes and whatever is in the vicinity.

It is now found in many parts of the world and is considered as an invasive species in many areas and action is taken to remove or control it.

This species belongs to a genus of plants known as Cardiospermum. This name which means “heart seed”, refers to the plant’s pea-sized dark brown seeds which bear a typical white, heart-shaped spot on their surface and in fact members of this genus are also known as love in a puff, heartseed or heartseed vine.

Native Amazonians string balloon vine seeds into armbands that are worn to ward off snakes

In Indian herbal medicine, balloon vine root is used to bring on delayed menstruation and to relieve backache and arthritis. Balloon vines are not traditionally known for their medicinal properties in the western world but in more recent times extracts from their seeds are included in skin creams that claim to treat eczema and other skin condition. The leaves are believed to stimulate local circulation and are applied to painful joints to help speed the clearing of toxins. The seeds are also thought to help in the treatment of arthritis. The plant as a whole has sedative properties.

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