Native plants are the best plants. Everybody knows that. Well, Grumpy has discovered the most beautiful native vine of all that you're sure to want for your garden.

Indigenous to much of North America, Rhus radicans is incredibly easy to grow. It tolerates drought, likes most soils, and thrives in both full sun and light shade. Few pests bother it. Thanks to aerial roots, this vine quickly climbs just about any support, cloaking it with lush foliage. Quickly scaling the tallest of trees, it forms a scaffold of branchlets that protrude several feet, their handsome foliage adding a tropical look to otherwise dull and barren trunks.


And in the fall, wow, what a show! Lustrous deep-green leaves assume fiery colors of scarlet, crimson, orange, and yellow. Only Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) rivals it for fall color, but Boston ivy disgusts me, because it isn't native.

By Its Leaves, Ye Shall Know It If you've never tried Rhus radicans before, you might worry you're not getting the correct plant. Relax! Here are some telltale signs that will help you make the right choice every time!

• Each leaf is divided into three leaflets. The leaflets, usually 6 to 8 inches long, may have smooth or toothed edges. Remember this old saying: "Leaflets three, that's for me."

• Clusters of whitish berries appear in leaf axils in the fall and persist into winter. Birds love them and spread the seeds all over creation, so that everyone may share the joy. Remember this old saying: "Berries white, party tonight."

• Hairy aerial rootlets embroider the stem of the vine from the bottom to the top. Remember this old saying: "Roots hairy, my name's Larry."

Given this vine's ease of culture and superior ornamental traits, you'll be shocked – SHOCKED!!! – to learn that virtually no nursery in existence sells this magnificent plant. In fact, I believe a vast horticultural conspiracy was hatched in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 for the express purpose of convincing the American public to shun this vine because it is dangerous.

Why else would they name it "poison ivy"?

A Plea for Help Grumpians, we can't let the Feds dictate what we'll plant and what we won't. If anyone ought there knows a mail-order source for Rhus radicans, please let the rest of us in on it. The fate of a fine native plant hangs in the balance.