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A tall evergreen or late-deciduous climber, with squarish stems and branches armed with flat, stiff spines, 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. long. Leaves unarmed, broadly ovate, heart-shaped or truncate at the base, pointed; 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. long, often as broad or broader than long; five- or seven-nerved, green on both sides; stalk 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. Flowers six to twelve in an umbel, the main-stalk of which is 1⁄2 to 1 in. long. Berries red, 1⁄3 in. wide. Bot. Mag., t. 9067.
‘This noble liane is one of the most striking features in the lower sylvan belt of the southern littoral of the Caspian Sea and throughout the Caucasus and the Pontic ranges as far as the Sea of Marmora. Farther west it appears in isolated areas in Thrace and in southern and eastern Bulgaria, often accompanied, as in its Asiatic home, by the grape-vine. In Ghilan I have seen it climbing into the crowns of the tallest trees, garlanding their boughs and hanging down in long swaying festoons.’ (Dr O. Stapf, in the article accompanying the plate in the Botanical Magazine).
S. excelsa was first recorded by the French botanist Tournefort, who saw it during his visit to the Levant in 1700-1. Philip Miller had it in cultivation at Chelsea by 1739. It is, for European gardeners, the most interesting of the taller species, extending as it does into Europe, where it was probably more widely distributed in earlier geological epochs than it is at present. Indeed, it has a very close ally in the Azores. It appears to be quite hardy, though the leaves may be burned by severe frost. It was reintroduced from N. Iran in 1972 by Mrs Ala and Roy Lancaster.