Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Cat's Claw Creeper is a plant native to Central America (Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama), the Caribbean and tropical South America (French Guiana, Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and northern Argentina).
  • Cat's Claw Creeper is a long-lived woody climber or creeper with distinctive claw-like tendrils and large tubular yellow flowers.
  • Cat's Claw Creeper reproduces by seed, as well as vegetatively via its tuberous root system.
  • It develops an extensive network of underground tubers that are very difficult to remove.
  • Control of Cat's Claw Creeper usually relies on the use of herbicides, as hand control is not practical except with very small infestations.
  • Cat's Claw Creeper has the ability to completely smother native vegetation, by growing up over tall trees or forming a thick carpet of stems and leaves as a ground cover over the forest floor.
  • It is particularly aggressive in riparian vegetation and rainforest plant communities in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Cat's Claw Creeper (Dolichandra unguis-cati) is a long-lived woody climber or creeper that can reach up to 30 m in height when climbing over tall trees. It develops an extensive root system with tubers. Younger stems are green and hairless, often with reddish-brown or bronze coloured tips on the new growth. The stems turn light brown or greyish and become woody as they age and old stems can be up to 15 cm or more thick. Older stems adhere to supports via short rootlets, while younger stems adhere to supports via the claw-like leaf tendrils.

The compound leaves are oppositely arranged and are borne on leaf stalks 5 to 25 mm long. They consist of a pair of oval to slightly elongated leaflets and a third leaflet that has been modified into a small three-clawed tendril, each claw being 3 to 17 mm long. The leaflets (1 to 8 cm long and 4 to 30 mm wide) are hairless with entire margins and pointed tips. However, younger seedlings have quite different leaves that are simple (that is, do not consist of leaflets) with slightly toothed margins (Navie 2007).

The showy bright yellow flowers (4 to 10 cm long and up to 10 cm wide) are tubular with five lobes, each about 1 to 2 cm long. The throat of the tube usually has several fine reddish-orange lines. The flowers are borne singly or in small clusters originating in the leaf forks.

The fruit are initially glossy green in appearance, but turn dark-brown as they mature. They are very elongated (15 to 50 cm long and 8 to12 mm wide), flattened, strap-like capsules. Each fruit contains numerous papery seeds (10 to 40 mm long and 4 to 10 mm wide). These oblong seeds are very light and have two see-through wings (Navie 2007).

For further information and assistance with identification of Cat's Claw Creeper contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Cat's Claw Creeper is a weed of tropical, sub-tropical and warmer temperate regions. Cat's Claw Creeper is most commonly naturalised in the vegetation along waterways and in disturbed rainforests. It is also found in open woodlands, plantations, waste areas, disturbed sites, along roadsides, and growing over fences and old buildings (Navie 2007). Cat's Claw Creeper is highly tolerant of low light situations, though it is much more vigorous in sunny gaps and on the edges of forests (McClymont 1996).

Are there similar species?

The claw-like tendrils make Cat's Claw Creeper quite distinctive. There are some slightly different plants present among populations in south-eastern Queensland, with larger leaflets and hairy stems, which are known as Bat's Claw Creeper. These plants are currently believed to be synonymous with Cat's Claw Creeper; however they may be re-classified in the future (Morton 2007, pers. comm.).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Cat's Claw Creeper is a Weed of National Significance (WONS). It is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts.

Native ecosystems: Cat's Claw Creeper has the ability to completely smother native vegetation, even growing up over tall trees, and many bushland areas in eastern Australia have serious infestations of this species (Land Protection 2006). It can grow as a ground cover along the forest floor of scrub remnants and form a thick carpet of stems and leaves which chokes out small existing plants and prevents the germination of all other species. The large climbing stems can also reach to the top of the rainforest canopy where, through a combination of weight and shading, they can cause the eventual death of the largest canopy trees (McClymont 1996). The vigorous and extensive root system, which produces large tubers at about 50 cm intervals, also adds to the difficulty of controlling this weed (McClymont 1996; Land Protection 2006). Cat's Claw Creeper is particularly aggressive in riparian vegetation in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales, but is also a potential threat to riparian and rainforest plant communities throughout the sub-tropical and tropical zones of eastern and northern Australia (Csurhes & Edwards 1998). It was recently ranked as the fourth most invasive alien plant species in south-eastern Queensland (Batianoff & Butler 2002), and is currently regarded as a priority environmental weed in five Natural Resource Management regions.

How does it spread?

Cat's Claw Creeper reproduces by seed, as well as vegetatively via its tuberous root system. Seeds are usually dispersed by wind and water, while the tuberous roots may be spread by floods and during human activities involving significant soil movement (Navie 2004).

What is its history in Australia?

Cat's Claw Creeper was introduced as a garden ornamental and is still often found growing in gardens in eastern Australia (Navie 2007). It was first recorded as being naturalised in south-eastern Queensland about 50 years ago (Batianoff & Butler 2002).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Dense infestations of cat's claw creeper are very difficult to control due to its numerous lianas, abundant seed and ability to resprout from the tubers, sometimes for years. In selecting the most suitable control techniques it is essential to minimise adverse impacts on native vegetation and to encourage its subsequent recovery. The methods chosen should be adapted to the type of native vegetation invaded, stage in the restoration program, size and growth stage of the weeds and level of infestation. Weeding should proceed gradually as creation of large gaps can lead to further weed invasion. Follow up is essential. Regrowth should be treated before it reaches the foliage of the host tree, or the hanging ends of previously cut stems of cat's claw creeper. Regrowth may require treatment for five or more years and ongoing monitoring is needed (NSW Weedwise, 2020).

Physical control: Use a pruning saw, machete or brush hook to cut all leads/stems up the trees. All above the cut will die, but regrowth will occur from the underground tubers (QLD DAF, 2020). Digging the underground tubers out is not practical in most cases. They tend to break off easily and are incredibly difficult to dig out. Each tuber must be dug out completely and this involves significant soil disturbance at the infested site, which causes damage the roots of the surrounding native vegetation (Land Protection 2006; McClymont 1996).

Chemical control: The stems of individual vines should be cut close to the ground with a pruning saw, machete or brush hook. The basal end should be quickly painted with herbicide, and the upper part of the vine can be left to die off over time. The poison translocates down the stem and into the tuberous root system killing the entire plant. However, it must be applied within 15 seconds of cutting, while the sap is still running (Land Protection 2006; McClymont 1996). Vines with a diameter larger than 1 cm can receive an additional application of herbicide on a scraped section of the remaining stem (Achilles 2003).

Ground cover carpets of cat's claw creeper and any re-growth can also be foliar sprayed to great effect. Because of the multitude of tubers, re-growth is inevitable and careful monitoring is usually required over some time (Land Protection 2006; McClymont 1996). In general, follow-up can commence between three and six weeks after primary control and follow-up spraying can be required for up to five years after primary control (Achilles 2003).

Biological control:  Several biological control agents have been identified and are at various stages of testing and introduction. Australian releases of the leaf-sucking lace bug (Carvalhotingis visenda) and leaf-tying pyralid moth (Hypocosmia pyrochroma) were approved in 2007 (Johnson 2011). A new agent, the leaf-mining buprestid beetle (Hylaeogena jurecki) was released in 2012–13 (Dhileepan et al 2013). 

Check with your local council or state/territory government agency about its requirements for Cat's Claw Creeper control. Also see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au .

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Prolific flowering occurs mainly during late spring and early summer in eastern Australia, with sporadic flowering throughout the rest of the year (Navie 2007). The majority of fruit tend to mature and begin to release their seeds in autumn, with peak seed dispersal occurring in May. Cat's Claw Creeper seeds are relatively short-lived, generally not surviving for 12 months in the field. Seed germination requirements are relatively non-specific, allowing the seeds to germinate over a wide range of temperature and light conditions (Vivian-Smith & Panetta 2004).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Cat's Claw Creeper is widely distributed and common in the coastal and sub-coastal districts of south-eastern Queensland, as well as central and northern Queensland. It is widespread and common in all coastal areas of NSW especially along coastal and hinterland streams in northern NSW (NSW Weedwise, 2020). In Victoria it is recorded as a rare garden escape in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote (VicFlora, 2020).

Where does it originate?

Cat's Claw Creeper is native to Central America (Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama), the Caribbean and tropical South America (French Guiana, Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and northern Argentina) (GRIN 2007).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Dolichandra unguis-cati

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Bignonia tweediana Lindl.
  • Bignonia unguis-cati L.
  • Doxantha unguis-cati (L.) Miers
  • Macfadyena unguis-cati

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Cat's Claw, Cat's Claw Vine, Cat's Claw Climber, Funnel Creeper, Yellow Trumpet Vine

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