Perennial Vines to Grow in North Florida
November 29, 2013
Photo by Pam Sawyer: Grape leaf passion vine
By Pam Sawyer
In my own little gardening world I have rules. For perennial vines they are: plant nothing invasive, nothing too big, and nothing too time-consuming. I am sure you have your own rules in your garden, so you may want to consider some of the vines that fall into my do-not-plant list. But in my garden I am queen and what I say goes.
None of the vines on my list are really bad except for the invasive exotics: Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), cat’s claw (Macfadyena unguis-cati), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum), and air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera). They will wear you down and when you die, they will terrorize your neighbors and the new people who move into your house. Morbid, I know, but gardeners have to think long-term. Don’t make a problem for someone in the future, if you can help it. Other than that I don’t grow really big vines like blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) and confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) because they are just too much for my small garden. My last do-not-grow category is high maintenance vines, like roses and clematis. I don’t have enough time to make them look their best.
I can afford to be picky since so many perennial vines thrive here. My favorite native vines are coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and a passion vine called maypop (Passiflora incarnata). Coral honeysuckle is, I believe, the perfect vine. It is well-behaved, grows in sun or part sun with average, well-drained soil and moderate water. It will reach twelve feet or so and produces one to two inch trumpet-shaped orangey flowers in late spring and summer. Hummingbirds love this plant. Alas, it has no fragrance, but for that you can plant Carolina jessamine. This plant will grow if you do nothing but stick it in the ground in a sunny or a shady spot. In late winter and early spring the plant (in sun) is covered with fragrant one inch yellow trumpets. It will climb whatever you want it to and be fluffy and attractive on top, but leggy beneath. So plant something that grows three to five feet tall at the foot of your eight to eighteen foot vine or cut it to the ground every couple years. Water it regularly until it is established. After that it is drought tolerant.
The native passion vine, maypop, is definitely not well-behaved, but its habit of popping up in other places can be forgiven because the flowers are stunning. Also they are huge, as big as clematis flowers, three to five inches. The plant also boasts large attractive three-lobed leaves. There are many species in various colors. All are native to South America except maypop, which is the hardiest. Passion vines enjoy full to part sun, well-drained soil and moderate water. They can grow 20 to 30 feet, but don’t usually grow but ten to twelve feet in my garden. They all die to the ground and usually return with warm weather.
Mostly I prefer the non-native passion vines. They have better colors. Years ago I grew blue passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) on a six foot fence that ran about eight feet long. In October the air was full of zebra longwings and gulf frittilarias. You could stand there and count dozens flitting about in the air. It was magical. Since it is a larval plant the butterflies were there to lay eggs. Of course, a few weeks later the whole wall of leaves was stripped bare. But still, it was worth it. Another one I have been growing for years is the grape leaf passion vine (Passiflora vitifolia). I planted it at the foot of some azaleas. All spring and summer long it twines through the shrubs and in late fall these dazzling bright red four inch flowers appear. This one blooms later than other passion vines and so sometimes, when we get an early freeze, there is not enough time for it to bloom.
Enough talk. The weather is too good to be sitting here. It is time to go out and play in the dirt.
Pam Sawyer is a Master Gardener and a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.