Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The complexity and intricacy of rattan

with 23 comments

Rattan Tangle with Yellow Leaves by Ashe Juniper 0167

Rattan, Berchemia scandens, is a common presence in the woods on Austin’s hilly west side. This vine, which is woody in its own right, offers two colors during most of the year, a dull green and a dull brown, both of which are in evidence here. In November or December there’s the addition of yellow as the vine’s deciduous leaves prepare to fall away; you see some of that in the distance near the upper right, where the leaves in the canopy are at their densest. In contrast, the closer rattan leaves in the upper left are still almost completely green. The tree in the foreground on which the vine has climbed is the familiar Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei.

This photograph comes from the woods behind the Arboretum in northwest Austin during the same November 30th venture that brought you the pictures of flaming flameleaf sumacs in the last two posts.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2014 at 5:49 AM

23 Responses

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  1. Interesting. I’ve never thought about where rattan comes from or what it is … except that I sit on it from time to time. Lovely photo and interesting post.


    December 16, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    • Not all this glitters is gold, they say, and I’ll have to add that not everything called rattan gets turned into furniture. The kind of rattan that you sit on from time to time comes from a type of palm,


      while the rattan vine shown in this post belongs to a different botanical family. Another name for the American vine is supplejack, which is less ambiguous than rattan, but still not unique. According to Wikipedia, there’s a supplejack that is Flagellaria indica, a bamboo–like vine plant species native to eastern and northern Australia (so why is it called indica if it’s native to eastern and northern Australia?).

      Apparently someone at some point applied the Asian name (from the Malay rotan) to something that looked similar in some respect to the palms from which furniture is made. Whether anyone has ever used the woody American rattan vine to make furniture or other objects, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2014 at 8:02 AM

  2. Wow. Like debibradford, I’ve never seen this stuff alive! D

    Pairodox Farm

    December 16, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    • And I’ve never seen a living specimen of the type of rattan that gets turned into furniture. In contrast, I see rattan vines practically every time I go walking through the woods in northwest Austin, the closest being Great Hills Park, one entrance to which is just half a mile down from where I live.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2014 at 8:34 AM

  3. One of nature’s beautiful configurations…


    December 16, 2014 at 8:49 AM

  4. When you really stop and look at our world you see some pretty amazing things…Love the photo.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    December 16, 2014 at 10:32 AM

  5. This was news to me also. I would have assumed it to be where furniture comes from and I work in a store that sells a lot of rattan furniture. I feel a bit smarter now…thanks!

    Steve Gingold

    December 16, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    • You’re welcome. This is a good instance of the drawback in using common rather than scientific names. The same pictures exemplifies another one: locals use the name cedar for the tree that the rattan vines are growing on, when in fact it’s a species of juniper. Not all wood with a similar fragrance comes from the same kind of tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2014 at 4:29 PM

  6. Interesting that you mention that last bit. We are having a tree guy take down a few trees here and were going to have him remove an upright juniper that has grown quite tall and overhangs the driveway.. He calls it a cedar, but the needles are all wrong. I’d expect him to know better, but no reason to argue. We decided to leave it alone anyway.

    Steve Gingold

    December 16, 2014 at 7:12 PM

    • I didn’t realize that that misnomer extends all the way from Texas to Massachusetts (and maybe farther).
      I imagine your juniper is grateful for the reprieve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2014 at 9:58 PM

  7. this is amazing


    December 16, 2014 at 8:56 PM

  8. I’m really taken with the contrast between the smooth, gray-green vine, and the rougher, presumably older vines that have lost their color. The way some of the green vines have wrapped around one another is positively serpentine, in a metaphorical sense, and the way the vine branches out looks serpentine to me in a mathematical sense. I’d bet there’s even an inflection point or two in that tangle. (It’s slow going, but I’m still having fun with my math.)


    December 18, 2014 at 7:19 PM

    • I have the feeling that I’ve seen young rattan vines that are tan or brown as well as green, but I’m going to have to double-check that before I say it with some assurance. This species, like some other vines I’ve seen, seems to have a compulsion to twine, and when no other plant is around, it will often twine around other parts of itself.

      The serpentine curve you linked to has three inflections points: one at the origin, and two others symmetrically opposite the origin in the first and fourth quadrants. You’re right that you could find many inflection points in the rattan. I have to imagine there’s a happy inflection in your voice, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2014 at 8:03 PM

  9. Where’s Tarzan?


    December 25, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    • I don’t know, but you can add S, C, H, W, and M to turn Tarzan into Schwartzman.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2014 at 2:02 PM

      • Ho ho ho! 🙂

        Why didn’t I think of that?
        This was such a cool photo. I never think of jungles in Texas.


        December 25, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        • Ho ho ho says old Kris Krungle
          As he visits Austin’s jungle.
          But if you’d like a longer jingle
          We can switch it back to Kringle.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 25, 2014 at 2:23 PM

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