Are you afraid to plant vines? If you’re from the South, you probably are. You’re used to any discussion about vines having words like choke, strangle, and smother in it. You’d think vines were animals–they climb, clamber, creep, engulf, overwhelm.
It probably started with Kudzu. That snake-vine can grow a foot a day–a “mile a minute” you might have heard. It blankets everything in sight, forming a dark desert underneath its impenetrable canopy. Death comes surely for our native trees, wildflowers, and herbs. Why would anyone want to plant something like that?
No wonder we’re leery.
While there may be more myth than truth surrounding kudzu in the South, there are less worrisome choices for the garden.
Beautiful and eco-friendly
If you want a garden that’s eco-friendly as well as beautiful, a good choice is a native plant. When you plant one of the following vines, flowers, fragrance, and lush greenery will fill your garden, and colorful, interesting wildlife will animate it for you.
Red Trumpet Honeysuckle, also called Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a twining, semi-evergreen vine with tubular red flowers, rounded blue-green leaves, and storybook charm. It is less aggressive than some of our other native vines, and much less so than Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), its weedy cousin. Likely you will find it easy to grow. Its agreeable habit makes it a good choice for containers on a balcony or patio, or to climb a mailbox post.
Several cultivars of this plant are available, ranging in color from red to yellow. Hummingbirds are partial to the red ones. Red berries form in the fall, which other birds and wildlife will eat over the winter. It is a food plant for many butterflies and moths. Red trumpet honeysuckle can grow in full sun but prefers light shade.
Northern Leatherflower (Clematis viorna) has lovely rosy pink, urn-shaped and unusually thick-petaled flowers. It is a good choice for clambering over a tree stump or large rock, or for climbing up into a shrub that blooms at a different time. It can also be trained on a pole or trellis. Interesting feathery seedheads form in the fall. Prefers some shade and/or mulched roots while getting established.
Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) – A vigorous vine with tubular orange flowers, trumpet creeper isn’t appropriate for just every situation. The vine becomes woody and difficult to remove over time, so consider carefully where you put it. Along a split rail fence, climbing into a red cedar, or disguising a utility pole, it is stunning.
Seedlings pop up wherever birds fly over, so they may show up in your garden without effort on your part. If you need to purchase your plant there are cultivars available, some of which may not be as aggressive as the species. Cultivars extend the color range a bit as well. Long brown seed pods with fluffy seeds inside form in the fall. A favorite of hummingbirds. Children like to squeeze the buds and make them pop, and there are usually plenty to spare.
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a semi-evergreen twiner. The flower color has been artfully described as “buff with brick dust” by North Carolina garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence. Cultivars like ‘Tangerine Beauty’ are more distinctly orange, but each has its own charm. Unless you want the vine to flower in the treetops – it can grow quite tall — it should be kept on a shorter support. A ten foot portion of tree trunk kept standing when removing a dead tree creates a perfect support and keeps the flowers in view. Of course a trellis will work, too. Hummingbirds relish the flowers.
Carolina or Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is an evergreen vine common in southern woodlands and along roadsides. Carolina Jessamine’s fragrant yellow flowers blooms unusually early for a Carolina native plant, with the first flowers showing up from late winter to very early spring. The pointed leaves are glossy and attractive most of the year. A twiner, this vine can be grown on or near a house more safely than a clinger like trumpet creeper. Carolina Jessamine can reach well into the tree canopy, so it needs trellising and pruning or training to keep the flowers in view. Carolina Jessamine is one of our most versatile vines, useful in a wide range of gardening situations. Tolerates shade but likes sun.
Muscadine (Muscadinia rotundifolia) can be grown simply for its cute round, serrated, roughly heart-shaped leaves, in which case you can let it climb a tree or trellis, or even use it as a groundcover.
But muscadine can also be grown for its big juicy clusters of purple fruits. If you grow it for fruit, a cultivar is probably a good idea, and there are many to choose from. Muscadine can be grown with the same techniques as vineyard grapes. It will need specific types of trellising and pruning. Some basics can be found here: Muscadine Grapes in the Home Garden Yellow fall color extends this vine’s season of beauty.
Blue or Purple
Purple Passionflower, also known as Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) will sound almost too good to be true. It has uncommonly beautiful and fragrant flowers. It attracts some exciting pollinators, especially butterflies. There is fruit, which can be eaten fresh or made into jelly. Its attractively lobed leaves are a popular medicine for anxiety and can be used safely in tea for this purpose. What more could you possibly want?
There are a couple of things you have to take into consideration before planting it. For one, it can be a rapid grower and is no respecter of other plants – it will wrap its tendrils around them and clamber right over top. Also, it is such a popular host plant for fritillaries and other butterflies, that occasionally the caterpillars will denude an entire plant. They won’t kill it, most likely, but it will be unsightly as you wait for new growth.
If you can give passionflower its own bed or large container with a large support, it will reward you like no other vine. Sun is best.
American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is a lush but well-behaved vine with darker leaves and flowers than its better known Asian cousins. It is a woody twiner with deciduous leaves. Leaves precede the flowers, unlike Asian wisterias, which flower before leaf out. Flowers are fragrant clusters of pea-type blooms, which you can stir fry or eat raw, (in moderation) if you’re so inclined. The rest of the plant is toxic. You can grow it on a trellis or arbor, or even train it as a shrub.
Other native vines to consider
Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana), is often confused with the non-native autumn clematis (C. terniflora), which it looks very much like. Virgin’s bower’s starry white blooms are fragrant and abundant and popular with butterflies and bees.
Southern Leatherflower (Clematis crispa) has pretty bell-shaped flowers with a pale lavender color. It is harder to find than northern leatherflower, but just as charming.
Greenbriar, Wild Sarsaparilla, Bamboo Vine (Smilax spp.) – A smilax vine is probably not something you would buy, but if you have it in your garden or natural area, why not use it? Smilax smallii, the Jackson vine, has been used at least as far back as Colonial American gardens. Some smilax species are edible and/or medicinal.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is another plant you are likely to see in your garden whether you put it there or not. The vine with its five-parted leaves can make a nice ground cover in shady areas, or you can let it climb a tree with its sticky pads. While it could be fine on a brick wall, avoid letting it grow on siding or onto a roof where it can cause damage and be difficult to remove. Virginia creeper has excellent fall color, which intensifies with the amount of sun it receives. Will grow in very dry soil once established.
Eastern Yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) may be the sweetest vine in the list. It is mild-mannered and diminutive. Tiny pale yellow flowers have the typical passionflower shape. It’s quite the charmer for a woodland garden, if you can find it.
Note: Passionflower is the only vine in my list that I know to be used routinely for food and medicine. Most of the others, as well as many other common native and non-native garden plants, have some level of toxicity. Carolina Jessamine is quite toxic. A good place to begin to research the toxicity of a plant you want to add to your garden is here: Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants
All material © 2015-2020 Daricia McKnight for callicarpa.org. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.