The Akebia Decne belongs to the Lardizabalaceae family of flowering plants, which contains approximately nine genera and 50 species (Delectis Florae Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae Agendae Academiae Sinicae Edita, 2001). The family is widespread in East Asia, whereas there are two monotypic genera occurring in Chile. The plants of the genus Akebia are perennial, deciduous vines producing large edible fruits commonly known as “wild bananas” in China. The fruit resembles a small bunch of thick bananas that crack open longitudinally when ripe in Chinese lunar August. It is therefore called “Bayuezha” (August crack) by the local people and has been prized for its delicious sweet taste for centuries in China. Species of Akebia are commonly referred to as “chocolate vine” in United States, are grown by gardeners as ornamental climbing vines, are well-known medicinal plants, and have been used in Chinese herbalism for at least 2000 years. Three species (subspecies) (A. quinata, A. trifoliata ssp. trifoliata, and A. trifoliata ssp. australis) are listed in Chinese Pharmacopoeia (Pharmacopoeia Commission of PRC, 2005). The value of the Akebia fruit and its natural compounds with antineoplastic, diuretic, and antiphlogistic properties (Jiangsu New Medical College, 1985) is of great potential for development of an alternative high-value crop. However, few studies on Akebia breeding and cultivation have been conducted and limited information is available apart from a few reports on phytochemical analyses (Gao and Wang, 2006; Kawasaki and Higuchi, 1976a, 1976b). Synthesis of knowledge on these species is needed to provide insights for developing management options that enhance their conservation and contribution to fruit production.
Recent investigations suggest that Akebia is worthy of being exploited as a new high-value fruit crop in China for its health benefits and other newly found fruit properties. This article provides a broad review on the most economically important Akebia species and discusses the value of exploring these species for domestication and commercial development.
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