Some WNC vines don’t take a winter break

Some WNC vines don’t take a winter break

Even in winter, vines are wonderful – especially ones that retain their leaves through a long, harsh winter of the kind we’re having this year. Instead of the showy flowering structures that appear in summer, in winter, we can turn our attention to less showy climbing strategies that include sharp spines and sticky pads as well as complex leaf and stem patterns.

I’m not sure the exact number of native and naturalized vines that exist in western North Carolina. Some that easily come to mind are wisteria, various peas and vetch, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, maidenhair, bittersweet, and trumpet creeper.

This checklist of trees, shrubs and woody vines of the Great Smokies lists other less common species such as pepper, ampelopsis, leatherwort, coral bean, climbing hydrangea, climbing euonymus and moonseed. The total number of vines found in this area may be around 50. Perhaps 20 of them are evergreen.

The climbing methods used by different vines are complex and variable. Accordingly, they have been classified in several ways. I think they are in four main categories:

1. “Hook Climbers” Some roses and others include climbing roses that attach to the host via pricks, hooks, and thorns.

2. “Root Climbers” They include English ivy, poison ivy, and trumpet vine, which produce an abundance of rough lateral growths (“adventitious roots”) that penetrate cracks and crevices in the host tree or building to hold the vine in place.

3. “Twin Climbers” They include honeysuckle, kudzu, wisteria, bittersweet, morning glory, tangleweed, and Dutch pipe, whose main stems wrap around their hosts and point upward into the light.

One vine specialist noted: “A ridiculous debate often arises over the vines in this alignment, whether they are bent to the right north of the equator and to the left ‘down’. “The equator is not involved, nor is the Earth’s rotation.”

Another specialist found that “about 95% of twin climbers always turn to the right (clockwise), and the direction is usually conserved across genera and species. But at least 20 species of twin climbers have been reported to turn unreliably in either direction.” From both directions.”

However, another Wine Science student finds that counterclockwise winding is inherently less efficient than the other way around.

4A. “The Tendrils Climbers” They include vines, greens, and perennial peas, which send out delicate vegetative organs from their main stems that “rotate”—that is, they move back and forth through the air in arcs as they elongate, their movement resulting from unequal growth rates on either side of the stem.

4b. Variation within the “tendril climber” group. It is provided by vines such as Virginia creeper and Boston Ivy that produce branching tendrils that form sticky pads upon contact with the host surface.

One of my favorite “tendril climbers” is the cross vine (Bigonia capreolata), a close relative of the trumpet vine or the very common cow’s thorn (Campsis radicans). Cross vine is uncommon in WNC, where it is found at elevations below about 2,000 feet. It grows along streams and roadsides, in moist forests and in bushland.

Flowering time is usually from mid-April to June. The outer color of the flowers is pale red (almost brown in some cases) to almost orange. The interior of each flower is striking yellow, making it one of the most attractive native vines.

Look for the two lanceolate leaves with tendrils between them. A cross section of the stem reveals cross-shaped vascular bundles. Hence the common name.

In winter light, the stems are almost translucent reddish-purple. If you are looking for a new vine for a garden trellis or other structure that will receive attention year-round, be sure to consider a crisscross vine.

George Ellison is an award-winning naturalist and writer. His wife, Elizabeth Ellison, is a watercolor artist and paper maker and has a gallery studio in Bryson City. Contact them at or or write to PO Box 1262, Bryson City, NC 28713.

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