Native vines will add interest to your home landscape

Published 2:32 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For those who claim they possess a brown thumb and no ability to keep plants alive, the native vines described here may offer them a solution. It’s simply hard to beat the vigor of a vine. I remember hearing a story about a friend who had plucked a seed that was embedded deep in the wool of her sweater from South America. Because she was a gardener, she couldn’t resist planting that seed. It proceeded to grow, and that well-tended vine eventually yielded some lovely flowers. What a nice bonus to the sweater!

Speaking of bonuses, one great perennial vine to grow is the passion flower (Passiflora incarnata). This vine offers the plus of playing an important role in the life cycle of the gulf fritillary butterfly. While the down side is that these caterpillars might eat every single leaf on your vine, it is a wonderful addition to your wildlife garden for this very reason. Defoliation of the passion vine usually does not kill the plant, and the chances are good that it will return next year and you’ll get the chance to enjoy its gorgeous blooms before the leaves disappear again. Also called maypop because of its egg-shaped fruits, this plant grows throughout the southeastern United States in part shade to sun, and light, moist soils.

Last year I spotted a huge and absolutely gorgeous coral honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens) growing along Ridge Road near the Crosby Arboretum. The plant prefers full sun and is commonly found growing along road edges, thickets, and woodland edges throughout the southern states. The red trumpet-shaped blooms of this twining woody vine are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies, and it is another great choice for an arbor in your wildlife garden, as songbirds enjoy dining on its fruits. Coral honeysuckle does not grow as rampantly as the invasive Japanese honeysuckle vine, and is drought tolerant once established. Winter pruning of this usually evergreen vine will encourage more abundant spring flowering. Hint: The Arboretum still has a few of these plants remaining from our spring plant sale, in addition to the yellow version of coral honeysuckle, called ‘Sulphurea’. 

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Carolina jessamine vine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is one of the most easy to grow native evergreen vines. You have most likely caught sight of this vine clambering high up through bare trees in early spring, or twining through roadside thickets, covered with yellow flowers. It would be hard to imagine someone causing the demise of this plant, but I suppose it is possible. Carolina jessamine flowers best in full sun, and the blooms will attract both hummingbirds and spicebush swallowtail butterflies. I have known dedicated gardeners who have pruned this vine for years to keep it on a small support such as a light post or mailbox, and others who have allowed it to “run and play”, using it to cover, for example, wide pergolas to provide dense shade in the summer for a hammock or swing below. In a garden where it is given some care, it is an absolutely beautiful plant when covered with fragrant blooms. When not in bloom, the glossy evergreen leaves are also an attractive feature.

The Arboretum’s Cypress Cove, the deck area east of the Piney Woods Pond near the Pitcher Plant Bog, is home to a delicate native vine, Clematis crispa, found growing on the trunk of a cypress tree in the middle of the deck. You probably would walk past this vine any other time of year, but during a brief period in mid-spring its delicate blooms will stop you in your tracks. Also called blue jasmine or swamp leatherflower, the flowers range in hue from pink to lavender, to deeper blue and even white. It is found growing in the rich, moist but well-drained soils of wet woods and marshes, in sun to part shade.

Some persons may chuckle when hearing that some daring gardeners have been known to cultivate the native Smilax vine on an arbor or post in their garden. This vine is usually something people work hard to eradicate once its tendrils are discovered emerging from their garden beds! However, Smilax enjoys not only a history in the garden due to its tough evergreen qualities, but a place in history in general. Also known as sarsaparilla, Smilax was once used to flavor root beer. But gardeners know this vine greenbriar, cat briar, or saw briar, because most of the species are very thorny. The Arboretum has nine species of Smilax growing in our exhibits, some indeed attractive, as there is a variety of leaf shapes and marbling patterns. So, before you shake your head and question the sanity of those who choose to grow this tough native vine for its ornamental qualities and wildlife value, just remember the old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” can certainly be applied here!

Visit the Mississippi State University Extension Service website,, for many helpful publications on gardening and native plants that can be downloaded for free.

This Saturday, May 7, the Arboretum will offer a special program from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. for children to create a perfect Mother’s Day Gift for moms who love plants!  Decorate a clay pot and design a Mother’s Day Card using recycled materials in a workshop led by Master Naturalist Mary Cordray. Children must be accompanied by parent or guardian. Program cost for members’ children is $2 and $4 for non-members’ children. To sign up, call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311. Visit for directions and site information. The Crosby Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, on Ridge Road (between Wal-Mart and I-59.)



How many native vines can you list that are found in Mississippi? Challenge your classmates to see who can create the longest list. Look up range maps for these vines.

Which of them have the widest distribution in the United States?

Which have the smallest?