Cardiospermum halicacabum: Balloon vine

Family: Sapindaceae
Common name: Balloon vine, Love in a puff, Heart seed, Heart pea, Winter cherry, Uzhinja, Blister creeper, Balloon vine heart seed

A beautiful climbing vine with decorative balloon-like seeds, it’s surprising that Balloon vines are not grown commonly in home gardens. Balloon vines are herbaceous, fast-growing plants that can reach a height of over 25 meters, producing abundant flowers and fruits during the blooming season.

Long, green stems become hard near the base, and hairy towards the tip. Balloon vines leaves are triangular in shape with 3 leaflets arranged in a triangular pattern, the largest leaflet towards the outer tip. The leaves are green, distinctly toothed and lobed, connected to the stem by petioles that are 2-3 cms longs.

White and yellow flowers are produced in small bunches of 3-7, which later form green balloon-like fruits having three inner chambers. The fruit-bearing stems are pinkish-red in color, and so are the upper part of the fruits.

Balloon vine fruits have 3 distinct ridges that separate them into 3 compartments, each containing a black seed. The seeds have a heart-shaped white spot on them, that gives the plant its name ‘Heart seed’.

Though these plants are commonly seen on roadsides, empty plots, hillsides, and open areas, they are very valuable in traditional herbal medicine. Called ‘Uzhinja’, this plant is one of the ‘Dashapushpa’ or Sacred flowers of Kerala.

In Ayurvedic medicine, balloon vines are used in the treatment of rheumatism, eczema, burns, dermatitis, arthritis, stomach ailment, headache, diarrhea, dysentery, fever, skin disorders, swelling, ear pain, urinary infections, menstrual disorders, and nerve-related ailments.

The seeds are used as insect repellents and also as beads because of their size and texture. Balloon vine leaves are used for washing hair and also clothes.

Balloon vines are quite sturdy, thriving in poor soil, drought, weather fluctuations, pollution, and salinity. They need good sunlight and are not recommended as indoor plants.

It’s good to provide some support for these vines to climb, failing which they will latch on to the surrounding vegetation. Though Balloon vines are considered invasive in most countries, they have high medicinal value and are a must-have in your garden.

Propagation is through seeds.