Southeastern Native Vines

Like any category of plant, native vines have a place in the ecosystem. By their very nature – crawling, climbing, clinging – vines can be a bit aggressive. Understanding how they grow and what they can do for you is essential to ensuring that the plant is a happy and welcome part of your wildlife garden.

Decumaria barbara

Decumaria barbara

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. I still remember trying to get a Gelsemium vine to grow up a big pine tree; it never would! Now I know it’s because it needs something slender to twine around – like the thin, low twigs of a shrub or a trellis with small supports.

Each vine has its own way of climbing:

Vines honeysuckle 012

Lonicera sempervirens twines



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 means to twine would be pure frustration – for the vine and the gardener! Honeysuckle (Lonicera) and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) are two that twine.



Vines creeper 004_sm

Parthenocissus quinquefolia clings with small pads



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.



clematis tendrils

Clematis vines have tendrils

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.

Vines with tendrils want something slender enough to wrap around. Be sure to buy the appropriate kind of trellis if you are growing a vine such as Clematis. This one with thin metal supports is perfect for this small vine.


Rosa support
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. I guess now we know how the term “Ramblin’ rose” came about.


On this Rosa setigera I have tied it to a lower support and then added this wavy pole to handle this vigorous shoot.


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.  As I said earlier, I speak from experience!


Passiflora lutea3

Passiflora lutea in an 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.


Bignonia 003a


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 was looking forward to having it improve the looks of those boring concrete blocks – until I found out that the deer love the new growth. Oh well.

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 in the southeastern US:

Crossvine - Bignonia capreolata: clings, evergreen, large and colorful trumpet-shaped flowers in spring.
Coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens: twines, semi-evergreen, bright red flowers for hummingbirds in summer.
Carolina jessamineGelsemium 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 clematisClematis viorna: tendrils, unusual flowers. Good reference here.
Virgin’s bower clematisClematis virginiana: tendrils, white flowers, can be aggressive.
Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia: clings, decorative blue berries, outstanding fall color.
Wood vampDecumaria 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!

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  1. says

    Great information Ellen! I’ve got Coral Honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper here in my PA garden. Sadly I also have invasive English Ivy and Sweet Autumn Clematis that I’ve been trying to eradicate for years but that horrid stuff is all over my neighborhood and it keeps spreading back into my garden.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Dave Hunter on Attracting Native Bees


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