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Climbing spindleberry is a deciduous climber that grows up to 15m high. It usually has greyish-brown branches. Young branches are green and often have sharp spines. The serrated leaves are 5-10cm long, tapered, alternately spaced, and turn yellow in autumn. It produces clusters of small (4-10mm across), green flowers. Yellow-orange capsules split open to reveal a scarlet fruit in early summer.
This aggressive, perennial, woody vine climbs on rocks and trees and sometimes covers the ground. In New Zealand it tolerates a range of climates and soils, but is less frequent on drought-prone soils. It is mainly found in scrub, shrubland and young forest and can establish on forest margins. Climbing spindleberry seedlings establish under moderate shade in New Zealand, primarily in the early stages of vegetation succession, then grow up more or less simultaneously with the supporting trees.
Climbing spindleberry can reach heights of 15m with stems up to 14cm across. Individual plants may spread to cover as much as 170m2. The stems strangle and smother the vegetation they climb over and reach to the top of most canopies, causing them to collapse. Layering stems form dense, impenetrable thickets which prevent native plants regenerating. Seedlings from the fruit of this plant are uncommon, as it usually grows and spreads by underground roots that form new stems.