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Trumpet creeper, one of our fine native vines

2011 July 7

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

Recently, I was queried by a Citizen reader about why I never write about vines. This reader had missed my Flora stories on coral honeysuckle and cross vine earlier in the year. During the same week, premier “gardener-in-a-small-space” Bill Bracey was wondering why folks did not make more use of vines in gardens. His small-space garden, Shelby’s Bottom, halfway down Hillsborough Street in Chapel Hill, has native vines galore.

Trumpet creeper flowers attract hummingbirds. Photo by Ken Moore

So, I’m inclined to dedicate a good bit of the summer to a review of our native vines. If you recognize some of the features as ones you’ve seen before, it’s not because I’m out of town and submitting one of those “pointless filler columns” that humorist Andy Borowitz exposes so effectively in his annual Labor Day column – I’m merely following some suggestions from Citizen readers.
So now, I’m again celebrating trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans. Some folks call it trumpet vine or cow-itch vine. There are likely other names associated with this common native vine, the bright-orange, tubular flowers of which are guaranteed to attract hummingbirds. Keep an eye out to find occasional peach- and yellow-colored variations. Garden centers offer cultivars that have peach or red flowers, and you may find the larger, red-flowered Chinese trumpet creeper, Campsis grandiflora.
As far as I’m concerned, any naturally occurring form of this common vine is just fine, and the hummingbirds don’t distinguish one from another.
Don’t let its pinnately compound leaves make you think the vine is wisteria. The compound leaves of trumpet creepers are opposite one another on the stem, in contrast to the alternate leaf arrangement of the awful exotic invasive wisteria.
Wisteria vines coil around and kill trees; trumpet creepers simply clamber loosely up trees without harming them. Flowers hang in clusters at the tips of long stems reaching down from points of varying heights, like low fence posts or abandoned chimneys.
They are quite noticeable, once you learn to recognize them, overstretching the guardrails of our highways. Recently, I’ve been admiring some peachy-colored ones overhanging the guardrail along the eastbound lanes of I-40 just past The Streets at Southpoint intersection. Be warned, however, that this is not a good spot to slow down for a closer look. Just take pride in knowing what you’re seeing.
Closer to home is a mighty hardy trumpet creeper overhanging the retaining wall along the westbound N.C. 54 bypass exit onto Jones Ferry Road.

Don’t attempt a ‘closer look’ at trumpet creeper hanging over highway guardrails. Photo by Ken Moore

I’m fortunate to have a trumpet creeper that volunteered at the base of my bird-feeding posts just outside my kitchen window. For years now, that vine has been showing off with flowers, with their accompanying pollinating hummingbirds, from early to late summer. I discovered several winters ago that goldfinches love to cling to the dried bean pod-like seed capsules to tease out the winged seeds during the early-winter months.
So, for those of you who already know this common native vine and for those who are just becoming familiar with it, I hope you find some to enjoy.

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Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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