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Sarcostemma   R. Brown 1810 (caustic vines)
Greek: sarx / sarkos = flesh + stemma = crown or wreath / garland, from the fleshy inner corona.

Sarcostemma is a group of about 40 species of climbing vines and sub-shrubs with leafless or leafy photosynthetic stems. Leaves where present are opposite and heart-shaped to lanceolate. Umbels of small flowers arise from leaf nodes.
 
Taxonomy of this group is controversial. The genus Sarcostemma as originally constituted was widely distributed throughout the sub-tropical and tropical Old World in Africa, India and Malaysia. Recently Sarcostemma was reduced to a synonym of Cynachum and many species moved to other genera. Sarcostemma viminale is very common in southern Africa. Similar New World species are regarded as Funastrum in some taxonomic treatments, but may be seen assigned to either genus. The leafy tropical American genera Philibertia and Vincetoxicum have been included under Sarcostemma, but are currently recognised in their own right.
 
Several species in this group are listed as invasive weeds and are best cultivated in pots with a climbing frame, where they can be kept under control. The milky sap is toxic and Sarcostemma australe (Caustic Vine) blisters skin on contact. Some species may contain substances of medicinal value.

Funastrum   Fournier 1882 (Twinevines)
Latin: funis = "rope" + astrum ="star", refers to the twining stems

A group of about 16 species climbing vines with photosynthetic stems, native to the tropical and sub-tropical Americas. Roots are fleshy rhyzomes. The soft leaves and other parts are often slightly hairy.


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Sarcostemma cynanchoides

Funastrum cynanchoides  (Decaisne) Schlechter 1914 (Climbing Milkweed)
Syn. Sarcostemma cynanchoides Decaisne 1844 
Widely-distributed across the Southern USA from Florida to California, commonly twining through shrubs, fences and other supports. The greenish-white to pink petals are fringed with white hairs but the stems and lanceolate to heart-shaped leaves are smooth. Flowers are followed by pairs of pods full of seeds with silken parachutes. This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds but may be an invasive weed in some areas. Photographed in the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix.

Sarcostemma hirtellumSarcostemma hirtellum

Funastrum hirtellum  Schlechter 1914 (Hairy Milkweed)
Syn. Sarcostemma hirtellum (A. Gray) R.W. Holm 1950 
A widespread vining plant of the lower desert in South-Western USA and North-Western Mexico. The white petals are fringed with white hairs and the twining stems and sparse lanceolate leaves are pubescent. May be an invasive weed, swamping other vegetation. Photographed in the Joshua Tree National Park near the Teddy Bear Cholla forest.

Sarcostemma vanlessenii

Sarcostemma vanlessenii  Lavranos 1974
This species from Kenya and N. Tanzania has narrow stems up to an eighth of an inch in diameter. In a sunny location, clusters of small pinkish to brownish flowers are produced freely during the summer.

Sarcostemma viminale

Sarcostemma viminale  R. Brown 1810
A robust species distributed acrosss Tropical and Southern Africa. The leafless, photosynthetic stems up to a quarter of an inch in diameter tend to explore and scramble through their surroundings, rooting as they go, but can be confined to the footprint of a plant pot with a climbing frame and some creative basket weaving. The cream-coloured flowers are sweetly scented. May be an invasive weed.