The same thing gardeners love about vines is also what drives them crazy. Vines climb, creep, crawl, drape and cover; it’s the good news and the bad news. But I’m advocating more love for native vines because they are not only useful in the garden, but ultimately such good providers for wildlife. What’s needed is an understanding of the growth habits of the vines you want to incorporate.
By nature vines are among the more opportunistic of plants. Their roots take hold in the woodland floor and they use tendrils of different kinds to clamber upwards and spread their leaves in the sunshine. This means that a gardener can multiply the flower quotient by utilizing vertical space, or space that would otherwise be devoid of growth. Vines can cover walls, mailboxes, fences, terraces, trellises, arbors, rock piles, and tree stumps. Vines also make excellent groundcovers. Some vines are more opportunistic than others; due diligence is the key to success.
One of the easiest vines to grow, and adapted to most of the eastern United States, is Lonicera sempervirens, or coral honeysuckle. Common names differ, of course, in different places, and this vine is also known by some as trumpet honeysuckle. But don’t confuse it with trumpet vine, the voracious Campsis radicans.
Easy to control, coral honeysuckle is:
- a native honeysuckle with a long bloom season
- loved by butterflies and hummingbirds
- a larval host for Spring Azure butterflies and Snowberry clearwing moths
- fruit for quail and many songbirds
- not preferred by deer
Knowing the scientific name is really important when you are trying to convey or seek information about a particular plant. For instance, I have noticed the following plants are all called ‘woodbine’ in some parts of the country: Lonicera sempervirens, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, and Clematis virginiana.
Anecdotal evidence: Sitting at an outside eatery in Utah this summer, I was asked if I could identity a pretty trumpet-shaped flower hanging from a vine nearby. When I said ‘no,’ friends told me they would ask the server.
Well, I know what she will call it, I said.
Sure enough, she did, too; leaving us no more enlightened than before.
So know exactly what to ask for when you are looking for your native vine.
Campsis radicans, trumpet vine, not only shares part of its common name with Lonicera sempervirens, but it also has tubular, trumpet-shaped flowers. There the similarity ends, however. Trumpet vine is an aggressive grower that needs serious planning for containment and pruning if you want to grow it. It thrives in infertile sandy soil, which could be a plus, but the suckering roots make it a nightmare in rich moist soil. Be warned!
The flowers are beautiful and it is one of the main sources of food for the ruby-throated hummingbird throughout the birds range. The vine grows rapidly, is tenacious, grasping, and heavy. I have seen only two places where homeowners successfully corralled it. One was on a tall, thick pole surrounded by a flagstone terrace. One was on a heavily supported t-shaped trellis in the middle of sandy lawn that could be mowed closely around the base. It’s possible, but it’s constant vigilance, and even then only with pre-approved barriers.
Did you know that we do have a native clematis? Clematis virginiana , or virgins bower, has a snowy white, fragrant flower, much smaller, but no less lovely, than the exotic ones you buy in the box stores. It’s a late summer to fall bloomer with copious amounts of pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies. And after the flowers, the seeds! The seeds ripen from green to rusty brown and then sport long feathery tails, just as showy as the flowers. This unusual formation earns the vine another common name: old mans beard.
When asked about maintenance, fence owner, Carrie Blair, explained that once the plant was mature enough, she could cut it down to the ground each February after enjoying the seed show all winter. She takes the time to remove the old vines from the fence. Then Just dont mow over the new shoots! Pretty easy!
There is native wisteria, too, Wisteria frutescens; not aggressive the way the Asian exotic wisteria is. Native wisteria blooms in early spring, after the leaves have appeared, again unlike the exotic, which flowers before the leaves. It bears fragrant flowers on new wood, needs a strong support and annual pruning when mature, but is a beautiful addition to any vertical sunny space.
Widely used throughout the south, a discussion of native vines is not complete without mentioning Gelsemium sempervirens, variously known as Carolina jessamine or jasmine and many other names. Easy to grow; beautiful fragrant flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds; evergreen leaves in much of its range; thick cover for trellis features and as a groundcover. However, it must be noted that all parts of this plant are toxic. As are other plants we commonly use in our gardens. You will have to come to your own conclusions.
Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper. Yes, it creeps! This vine will spread over the ground as well as upwards because roots form at the nodes where vines come in contact with soil. Another mixed bag if you have limited space in a yard, it may not be a good choice. However, those creeping qualities make Virginia creeper an excellent groundcover. It covers the ground fairly quickly and spreads thickly enough to crowd out weeds. If you have the luxury of just being able to mow around it, it’s quite wonderful. Note that it will not flower and fruit as prolifically as when it is allowed to grow upwards.
And Virginia creeper is hard to beat as a provider of food and cover for wildlife. It’s got nectar and pollen; its leaves are eaten by several moth caterpillars, including the Giant Moth. When ripe, the dark blue berries contrast with brilliant red foliage in the fall and they are high in the lipid fats that are so important for powering migrating birds on their journeys. A long list of birds and small mammals are sustained by this high-quality food source.
Passionflower, (Passiflora incarnata) is perhaps the ultimate paradox. This divinely beautiful vine perplexes and impassions as few others do. Gardeners scream, “I can’t grow it for anything!!” as often as “I can’t get rid of it!” Proving the importance of knowing both the plant’s needs, and what you can provide. Your county extension agent can help you if you’re not sure what the conditions in your yard allow you to provide. Native plant societies are also great sources for local information, including where to buy plants. Use this websites locator to find sources for both plants and more information, click here: http://findnativeplants.com/
There are many other native vines, of course, including ones in the the grape, (Vitis), and greenbrier, (Smilax) families, that may be suitable for larger parcels of land; and also some smaller ones like partridgeberry, (Mitchella repens), that are worthy of consideration. Here a few for the more average sized yards: American bittersweet, (Celastus scandens), Dutchmans pipe, (Aristolochia macrophylla) Wild Yam, (Dioscorea villosa), Groundnut (Apios Americana), Hog peanut, (Amphicarpaea bracteata), and butterfly pea, (Clitoria mariana) All of these are worth searching for, from a reliable native plant nursery or sale. Each has special needs and special benefits for wildlife and for gardeners, wild or not.
Links to more posts about vines:
A Passion for Passionvines ,by Jacquelene Soule: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/a-passion-for-passion-vines/
A collection by Sue Sweeney: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/southern-new-englands-native-vines/
Rise of the Vines, by Ursula Vernon: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/rise-of-the-vines/
Coral honeysuckle, by John Hayden: http://vnps.org/wildflowers-of-the-year/wildflower-year-2014-coral-honeysuckle-lonicera-sempervirens/
How to Propagate Coral Honeysuckle, by John Hayden: (contained within newsletter, scroll down)
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