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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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!
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