Posts Tagged native vine

Trumpets in the Trees

Trumpets dangle from a floodplain pine.

A day or so ago, someone found my blog by searching on this question: “Does honeysuckle make beans?” I knew at once that someone had mistaken a Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) vine that had produced seed pods with our native Coral Honeysuckle. These pods are long and quite bean-like to a casual observer. Because the bright orange-red flowers are tubular — similar to the shape of our native Coral Honeysuckle — I’m not surprised that someone mistakenly assumed that it was a honeysuckle vine with “beans.”

A closer look at this high-climbing (up to 35 feet) native vine reveals its many differences from Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). First, Trumpet Creeper flowers are considerably larger than those of our native honeysuckle, and they usually are a bit more of an orange-red. Next, the leaves are completely different. Trumpet Creeper leaves are pinnately compound and much larger than honeysuckle leaves.

The vines themselves are different too. Honeysuckle vines wrap themselves around objects they climb. Trumpet Creepers produce aerial rootlets — similar to those of non-native English Ivy — which attach themselves to trees, buildings, telephone poles — whatever is handy. And, like the rootlets of English Ivy, Trumpet Creeper aerial rootlets can damage mortar between bricks, so don’t let it climb on any structure you want to last.

The fruits of these two native vines are completely different. Coral Honeysuckle produces little red berries, which are enjoyed by wildlife.  Trumpet Creeper fruits are, botanically speaking, capsules, but anyone looking at them would call them long beans. The pods turn brown when they are ripe and split in half to release papery seeds. In late summer and fall, I find their emptied pod halves all over my floodplain.

As far as I know, no wildlife eats the pods, and deer don’t much like to graze on the leaves, although the leaves are food for the caterpillars of the Trumpet Vine Sphinx Moth. But those big trumpet-shaped flowers are irresistible to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which is reason enough for me to leave these fairly aggressive natives alone in my landscape where I can.

You must watch this native vine. It pops up from underground roots all over the place in softer soils, and it can shoot up a telephone pole or the side of a house phenomenally fast. Drought doesn’t much slow it down. Rain sends it soaring. If it sprouts in your lawn where you don’t want it, mowing will control it.

On my five acres of Piedmont, I allow Trumpet Vine to flourish uncontested on our floodplain. A number of vines have scaled the mature pines there, where they often successfully outcompete poison ivy. From June through August, orange-red trumpets dangle from the treetops, much to the delight of chittering hummingbirds zooming from flower to flower.

Trumpet Creeper is native to the southeastern United States, but it has managed to spread itself up and down the East Coast and well into the middle of the country too. It has a couple of other common names, including Trumpet Vine and Cow-Itch Vine. That last name likely arose because some folks get an itchy rash when they touch the leaves and vines of this native. I always wear gloves when I handle it; I don’t want to find out the hard way whether or not my skin reacts to it.

Here’s a link that offers you photos of the pods and the various flower color variations you can find in the wild. Horticulturalists have developed quite a number of varieties of this vine that offer you some color choices.  For example, ‘Minnesota Red’ is a nice, deep red. ‘Flava’ and ‘Judy’ both sport yellow flowers, and ‘Madame Galen’ offers deep orange-apricot flowers. All of the cultivars share the native version’s vigor, so site this vine carefully if you decide to add it to your landscape. And whatever you do, don’t feed it! It doesn’t need the help, trust me.

Despite its somewhat aggressive tendencies, I think any Piedmont landscape is improved by having a few Trumpet Creepers growing up sturdy trees in out-of-the way spots. If you’ve got such a locale, consider giving this native vine a try. The hummingbirds will thank you.

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Eastern Sensitive-Briar: A Novelty for your Native Piedmont Landscape

Pink powder puff flowers of Eastern Sensitive-Briar

Does this plant look familiar? If you turned it into a tree and made the leaves and flowers larger, it would look a lot like a non-native, invasive tree common to many southeastern Piedmont landscapes: Albizzia julibrissin, commonly called Mimosa Tree.

But this is not a young Mimosa Tree. This is an inconspicuous native vine of our region. Like the Mimosa Tree, the Eastern Sensitive-Briar (Mimosa microphylla) is in the Legume family, which likely explains the resemblance.

I learned about this vine when I became a tour guide at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC. It grows in the Sandhills Habitat Garden, where this vine covered in tiny (not really pain-inducing) prickles sprawls over other plants in the exhibit during the growing season. It is easiest to spot this time of year when it is covered in pink flower clusters shaped like globes.

Because I learned of the plant in that exhibit, I thought it was a native characteristic of the Sandhills geographic region, and it is. But this delicate deciduous vine is more widespread than I realized, thriving in dry woodlands and forests and in disturbed areas throughout much of the Carolinas and Georgia.

I discovered it growing in my yard last year right where my research told me to expect it: along the disturbed edge of my woods beside my road. The mixed mess of vegetation growing along my roadway is an area I have largely ignored over the years. Its purpose is to create a barrier between the road and the rest of my yard, and it fulfills its function admirably.

So I was pleasantly surprised last year as I was mowing the strip of grass along the road to spot this vine sprawling on nearly barren ground at the edge of the woods. This year, it has spread a bit, but it is not invasive, and it’s a great novelty plant, so I’m letting it sprawl where it will.

Note the compound, evenly bipinnate, mostly alternate leaves.

And why, you ask, do I think of it as a novelty plant? The answer to that lies in its common name — Eastern Sensitive-Briar. This refers to the touch-sensitive nature of its leaflets. Have you ever noticed how the leaflets on Mimosa Trees fold up at night? If not, check it out sometime.

Eastern Sensitive-Briar is more touchy. Its leaflets close when they are bumped into — even in bright sunlight! Allow me to demonstrate. Here’s a shot of the vine before I touched some of the leaflets:

Note the open leaflets along the section in the middle.

Now take a look at the same vine after I fondled a few of the leaflets:

See the closed-up leaflets?

You may need to click on the above photo to enlarge it for a better look.

Personally, I think this is a nifty feature, and I know whenever I volunteered as a tour guide at the NC Botanical Garden and demonstrated this trait, it elicited astonishment from visitors.

It would have never occurred to me to deliberately plant this little native vine in my yard, but since it found its way on its own, it is welcome to stay. The diminutive pink powder puff flowers are lovely, and the child in me will never grow tired of tweaking a few leaflets to make them close.

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