Sunday, January 29, 2012

Native Vines Grow on You

While I have a number of native vines in the natural area of my yard, it was several years before I decided to add new ones to the landscaped areas.  Perhaps I was a little afraid that a vine would be too aggressive.  Eventually, their beauty overcame any fear – I wanted to see the large and colorful blooms of crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), to support hummingbirds with the red tubal flowers of our native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), to delight my visitors with the delicate bells of our native leather-flower (Clematis viorna), and to be wowed by the springtime show of Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens).

Pale passionflower, Passiflora lutea

I also learned more about how they support native wildlife: from hummingbirds and insect pollinators to birds that eat their berries and insects that feed on their foliage.  I was inspired by Doug Tallamy’s story about growing Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) just so that he could observe the larvae of the Pandorus sphinx moth (Eumorpha pandorus).  I decided that planting more vines would increase the diversity of host plants to support insects that feed on foliage.

The first thing to consider about vines – as it would be for any kind of plant – is how they grow.  For vines that means considering HOW they climb.  Each vine has its own way of climbing:

Twine – a vine that twines will physically wrap itself around small branches or trunks of other plants or around supports provided by the gardener.  Trying to grow such a vine next to a solid wall without any twine-able support would be an exercise in futility.  Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) are two that twine.

Lonicera sempervirens

Cling – a vine that clings will physically attach itself to a wall, a fence or another plant.  This same vine may cause damage to structures when you try to detach it!  Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and wood vamp (Decumaria barbara) are both clingers; the creeper clings with little adhesive discs while the vamp clings with aerial roots.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Decumaria barbara

Tendril – a vine with tendrils anchors itself to another plant or thin support via curly tendrils.  Vines like grape (Vitis spp.) have very thick tendrils while clematis (Clematis spp.) have thin tendrils.

A grape latches onto a nearby oak sapling

Ramble – a vine that rambles is really a shrub with long branches and usually requires physical support (e.g., tying it to an arbor or structure) initially.  Roses are ramblers.

Knowing the difference in how they grow helps me quickly identify two evergreen vines in the wild: Gelsemium sempervirens (a twiner) and Bignonia capreolata (a clinger).  But as I said, the real reason to know is so that the environment that you place them in will be one where they can thrive.  Unfortunately, I speak from experience!

Passiflora lutea waltzing through my plumleaf azalea

If you select a vine that twines or has tendrils, be sure to provide some support for the vine or it will twine all over itself and make a bit of a mess.  You can use a fence with slender rails, a metal trellis, or you can even supplement the area with sturdy twine or rope stretched out in a vertical fashion.  I've seen the native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) twine throughout a chain link fence beautifully - the fence was almost obscured.  Of course you can let the vine scramble over other shrubs or small trees if you like.  Passionflower (Passiflora spp.) is perennial but not woody so it takes a different path through my shrubs every year as it grows.

If you select a vine that clings, be sure to consider where it is going to cling.  Allowing a vine to cling to a wooden house is not recommended as it could collect and hold moisture, permitting some rot over time.  But a clinging vine can happily climb up a tree if you like.  I recently trained Virginia creeper to climb up my store-bought landscape blocks.  I'm looking forward to having it improve the looks of those boring concrete blocks.

That's all there is to understand - now you can consider what native vines you might like to grow!  Most vines do love sun.  They will tolerate some shade but you may not get the amount of blooms that you want. Here are some of the ones that I would recommend:

Crossvine - Bignonia capreolata: clings, evergreen, large and colorful trumpet-shaped flowers in spring.
Coral honeysuckle - Lonicera sempervirens: twines, semi-evergreen, bright red flowers for hummingbirds in summer.
Carolina jessamine - Gelsemium sempervirens: twines, evergreen, early flowering spring vine, can be aggressive.
Passionflower - Passiflora incarnata (purple) or P. lutea (yellow): tendrils, host plant for Gulf Fritillary butterfly.
Leather-flower clematis - Clematis viorna: tendrils, unusual flowers. Good reference here.
Virgin's bower clematis - Clematis virginiana: tendrils, white flowers, can be aggressive.
Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia: clings, decorative blue berries, outstanding fall color.
Wood vamp - Decumaria barbara: clings, semi-evergreen in protected areas; also known as climbing hydrangea.
Rose - Rosa setigera: rambles, has rose hips for wildlife.
Wisteria - Wisteria frutescens: twines, blooms at a young age, not as aggressive as the Asian species, but also not very fragrant. Generally sold as a cultivar like 'Amethyst Falls'.

Cultivars are available now for many native vines, and I've heard that even some of the trumpet creeper cultivars (Campsis radicans) are not as aggressive as the species.  I'll believe that when I see it - that's a vine that really should just be grown on telephone poles!

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Passiflora incarnata

Campsis radicans

Lonicera sempervirens


  1. Wow, some wonderful vines Ellen. I wish we had as much brilliantly colored vines native to the north. I use Woodbine to climb and cover the chain link fence. It works wonderfully and the birds use it for cover.

  2. And don't let anyone slip you an Asian Wisteria. It grows about 80ft per season and can take down prey the size of a small deer.

  3. The Passionflower is stunning, looks like I'll have to add that to my wish list. We had one growing at our previous home, it grew like mad and the flowers smelled like minty toothpaste, don't know if it was a native or not.

  4. A fried of mine gave me a few passion flower vine plants last year, and I am looking forward to seeing their growth this growing season...and those lovely blooms. Welcome to Blotanical!

  5. I have never seen a trumpet vine variety that is not an aggressive plant, same with Virginia Creeper. But the hummingbirds love my trumpet vine and that is the only reason it lives in my small garden. You have very lovely photos and you did a great job illustrating your post.

  6. I love vines and have trellises everywhere. I've grown Carolina jessamine in the past - it's so pretty! Virginia creeper is a weed in my yard, even though I've seen it sold for ridiculous sums of money at a local nursery. (Maybe I should be digging it up and selling it?) It is fairly tough to get those little adhesive discs off of my fence. That's pretty awesome about the sphinx moth, though - I just need to shoo all the Virginia creeper into the wooded lot next door!