Maidenhair (Muehlenbeckia) – The Complete Guide

Muehlenbeckia or maidenhair species are popular shrubs that are often planted outdoors. But not every representative of this genus is suitable for outdoor cultivation in mild regions. Each species has adapted to different climatic conditions with its growth habit.


Muehlenbeckia is a genus of plants that includes more than 20 different species. Their main distribution area extends from Australia to New Zealand.

They are found in New Guinea and are mainly distributed in the Neotropics. Some species also grow in South America.

Muehlenbeckia species are also known as wire vine, creeping wire vine, mattress vine, and many other names. The most commonly used ornamental plant is Muehlenbeckia complexa, also known by the Maori name pohuehue.


The leaves of the species alternate. They consist of a petiole and a leaf blade in most of the species.

Their leaf blade is linearly extended or circular with an erect apex. They can be triangular to lanceolate in shape.

The leaf margin is slightly wavy or smooth. At the base of the stem are either tiny stipules or a sheath developed from the stipules, which is transparent and usually falls off at an early stage of development.

Leaf shape of Muehlenbeckia complex in short:

  • Roundish to ovate
  • Glossy green
  • Linearly extended
  • Stalked


Muehlenbeckia species bear terminal or lateral inflorescences that appear spikey or clustered. The wire vines develop hermaphrodite flowers. Some plants form both bisexual and unisexual flowers on one individual.

The small inconspicuous single flowers consist of a whitish-to-greenish colored perianth. It consists of five petals that are fused together.

The maidenhair plant does not develop corollas. The male stamens often appear yellow or pinkish to purplish.


Muehlenbeckias grow as deciduous shrubs that can assume upright, prostrate, or climbing growth forms. They develop dense branching and an underground rhizome.

The branches are very thin and can be downy-haired, glandular, or glabrous. Their bark has a dark color.


Because of the different growth forms, Muehlenbeckia species have numerous uses. They are ideal as ground covers and green up unsightly areas in the garden.

But you can also use the shrubs for planting in hanging baskets. Here they are suitable for the outer area, as the branches hang over the edge of the pot in a sprawling manner.

Climbing species can also decorate trellises and gates. On the other hand, you can use upright growing specimens as tub plants to beautify entrance areas and balconies.

Wire vines also work very well for planar planting in rock gardens or for decorating graves. In small gardens, you can even cultivate them as lawn substitutes.

Some species are suitable for cultivation in sided containers. And, finally, you can cultivate them as houseplants, too.


Not every Muehlenbeckia is suitable as a groundcover. Muehlenbeckia complexa and Muehlenbeckia axillaris are prostrate shrubs whose branches creep flat over the ground.

While Muehlenbeckia complexa has limited hardiness and should overwinter in a frost-free location if possible, Muehlenbeckia axillaris is suitable for areas with frosty winter months. This ground cover can easily overwinter outdoors.

Here’s what you should watch out for:

  • Light partial shade
  • Well-drained soil with sand
  • Radical pruning with a lawn mower is possible


Muehlenbeckia complexa and Muehlenbeckia axillaris are very popular houseplants. Their climbing shoots decorate hanging baskets or pots equipped with climbing aids, placed in an elevated position.

Muehlenbeckia complexa feels especially comfortable in living rooms, as it requires mild temperatures mainly in winter. An airy and bright location can encourage flowering for this plant.

You should avoid a location in full sun, though. A light spot in partial shade is more suitable. A cool and well-ventilated space will ensure healthy growth.

Is Muehlenbeckia Poisonous?

The plant parts and berries of Muehlenbeckia are non-toxic. There are no known indications of intolerance.

However, you should discourage children from eating Muehlenbeckia fruits. The knowledge about the ingredients of these plants is rather small.

Also, no negative effects have been described in animals following consumption of leaves and fruits. Chinchillas even eat the green leaves in small quantities. And Muehlenbeckia hastulata serves as a popular addition to the diet of guinea pigs.

What Location is Suitable for Muehlenbeckia?

Muehlenbeckia complexa prefers a location with moderate to good light. They like a partial shade location with bright conditions. But too much sun will harm the shrubs.

Muehlenbeckia species are adaptable and thrive in warm places in the shade. The plants are just as comfortable outdoors as they are in a well-ventilated area.

In winter, Muehlenbeckia complexa requires temperatures between 41 and 50 °F (5 and 10 °C). Muehlenbeckia axillaris is even frost hardy.


The soil should be well-drained because the shrubs do not like wet feet. Make sure that the root ball is kept evenly moist.

As a substrate, an airy potting soil is a good choice. But a mixture of potting soil and sand is ideal. Alternatively, you can also use perlite to increase permeability. The substrate should be pH neutral.

Propagating Muehlenbeckia

You can propagate Muehlenbeckia species by seeds or cuttings. For sowing, a soil temperature of about 68 °F (20 °C) is necessary for the seeds to germinate.

A heated greenhouse is ideal for this method, as you can better control the conditions. If you have a mini-greenhouse, you can place it on the windowsill. You can buy Muehlenbeckia seeds from a specialized store or collect them from existing plants.

Propagation by cuttings is easier than the method using seeds. You should cut shoot tips from the plant so that the cuttings have at least three leaves.

Put the cut shoots in a plant pot filled with a growing medium and put a transparent plastic bag over the pot. In this way, you will ensure high humidity.

You should regularly moisten the substrate so that it does not dry out. Air the planter daily to prevent mold growth.

In a bright and warm place with temperatures between 68 and 77 °F (20 and 25 °C), the cuttings will form their first roots after a few weeks.

Tips for propagating Muuhlenbeckia:

  • Put several cuttings in one pot for particularly dense arrangements
  • In spring it is possible to divide the plant
  • You can propagate cuttings indoors all year round

The Right Planting Distance for Muehlenbeckia

Make sure that there is a distance of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) between two specimens. Ten to twelve plants will fit in 10 sqft.

You can plant smaller specimens even more densely with 20 plants per 10 sqft.

What is the Best Time for Planting Muehlenbeckia?

The best time to plant Muehlenbeckia is between February and October. Keep in mind that young plants even of hardy varieties and species are sensitive to frosty temperatures.

You should use a thick layer of insulation for freshly planted plants for the first year. In particularly cold winter months, protect outdoor plants with brushwood or fir branches in subsequent years as well.

Watering Muehlenbeckia

Provide regular watering to keep the root ball evenly moist. In a particularly warm location, regular watering is important. Make sure the soil does not dry out for potted plants.

Outdoor shrubs need fresh watering when the top layer of the substrate has dried out. If the plant is too dry, it will lose its leaves.

But you also want to be careful with watering as waterlogging will damage the roots. Therefore, make sure the substrate is permeable before planting.

In winter, you should reduce watering. Give the plants just enough water so that the root ball does not dry out.

Fertilizing Muehlenbeckia Properly

During the growing season between April and October, Muehlenbeckia enjoys regular fertilization to provide nutrients. Fertilize the plants about once a month. A liquid fertilizer that you add to the watering is ideal.

At the beginning of spring or just before summer, you can alternatively provide the shrubs with a slow-release fertilizer. This will give the plants nutrients into the fall.

If you have freshly repotted your Muehlenbeckia, you can mix some compost soil into the substrate. This way, you won’t have to fertilize the plant additionally for the first few months.

Pruning Muehlenbeckia Properly

As soon as some shoots disturb the overall appearance of the Muehlenbeckia, you can cut back the plant.

For indoor plants, pruning is possible throughout the year. Outdoor shrubs should be pruned in the fall.

Weak and colorless shoots that do not grow leaves usually develop in winter in locations that are too dark. Remove these branches in the spring, as they consume additional energy from the plant.

If you discover more withered or diseased shoots during the year, you can cut them off immediately.

To avoid unnecessary injury during this maintenance task, use a clean and sharp knife. Muehlenbeckia species prove to be very well tolerant of pruning.

You can cut large areas that are overgrown with ground covers with a lawnmower if necessary. By doing so, you will stimulate densely branched growth. The ideal time to do this is in the spring.

How Do I Repot Muehlenbeckia Properly?

You should report Muehlenbeckia as a houseplant every one to two years. The plants are vigorous growing shrubs that will root through the potting medium in a short time.

They will then need a larger planter so that their growth does not suffer from a lack of space. The ideal time for repotting is in spring, as soon as the flowers have withered.

Overwintering Muehlenbeckia

Each species of Muehlenbeckia adapts differently to winter conditions. There are some species that can easily survive frosty temperatures. Other representatives within this genus must be overwintered in a frost-free place.

If you are not sure which species you have, you should overwinter the shrub in a cool place inside to be safe.

Muehlenbeckia axillaris is one of the frost-tolerant species that can survive low temperatures. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to protect the plant with a layer of brushwood or fir branches.

Muehlenbeckia complex, on the other hand, does not tolerate frosty temperatures. This plant is not suitable for outdoor cultivation in regions with cold winters.

Therefore, planting it in a pot will allow you to quickly relocate it once winter is just around the corner. A frost-free winter quarter is important for this species. Before transporting, you should prune the plant a little.

In general, make sure that the root ball does not dry out. On frost-free days, you should water the shrubs in the open ground. Also, water potted plants regularly as soon as the substrate dries out.

It is not necessary to fertilize Muehlenbeckia during the winter months.

Good to know

Muehlenbeckia create a nostalgic charm. Their creeping shoots are dark brown in color and shimmer slightly dark red in the light. The light green glossy leaves provide the ideal contrast to the bark. These shrubs are perfect for planting in hanging pots.


Muehlenbeckias are extremely hardy plants that are not affected by diseases or pests. Damage to the plant is usually due to improper care or unsuitable locations.

In too dark places in winter, the leaves do not get enough light. The lack of light causes the shrubs to lose their leaves.

If the roots are too wet, they tend to rot. Rotted roots can no longer absorb water, which can also lead to leaf loss.

Make sure the soil has good permeability. Mix the substrate with sand and provide good drainage of clay shards or expanded clay when cultivating in containers.

After watering, no water should remain in the saucer.

Use a clean and sharp tool for pruning, as cuts serve as entry points for pathogens.

My Muehlenbeckia Loses Leaves

As deciduous species, shrubs growing outdoors drop their leaves just before winter. In spring, the plants resprout and develop fresh foliage.

Not all Muehlenbeckia species are equally frost-hardy, though. When the ground freezes, this will damage the roots. The plant is then unable to sprout fresh leaves.

If the leaves of a houseplant suddenly turn brown and fall off, this indicates a suboptimal location. Muehlenbeckias require an airy and bright location. The optimal temperature is between 68 and 77 °F (20 and 25 °C).

A windowsill location that is too hot will cause the leaves to dry out. Due to the dense foliage, the water requirement is very high, especially in summer.

You should check the soil moisture daily and water the plant thoroughly. Otherwise, there is a risk that only the top layer of soil will be moistened and the water will not reach the root ball.

Temperature and light conditions also play an important role during overwintering. If the plant is in a place that is too dark, there will be a lack of light.

The plant cannot photosynthesize and will drop its leaves. As a first relief measure, it is recommended to move the plant to another location. Usually, shrubs quickly regenerate from the loss of leaves and sprout again.