Just Say No to Trumpet Vine
A reader recently asked why I don't promote native plants that don't destroy the habitat. I responded that I write about many such plants—you only need to scroll back through previous posts (like recent ones on red buckeye and native wisteria) to see that. However, implicit in her question, it seemed to me, was the notion that natives are inherently nicer and never take a toll on the land where they grow. In fact, many natives are awful garden plants that bully their neighbors and shouldn't be cultivated. Prime example: trumpet vine.
Native to the eastern United States and now escaped to the West, trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) gets its name from clusters of showy, red-orange, trumpet-shaped, 3-inch blooms that appear from early summer to fall. Hummingbirds swarm to the tubular blossoms, so to make the birdies happy, everyone should plant this vine, right? No. Hell, no.
Trumpet vine is not nice. Using aerial rootlets, it climbs trees about as fast as fighting squirrels, and ascends 40 feet or more. It flowers form seeds that drop to the ground, making more vines that do the same thing. Even more sinister are its spreading roots that submarine underground far from the original plant and pop up suckers everywhere. Fighting rampant trumpet vines is a war you can't win without herbicide. You might as well plant poison ivy (another excellent native plant!).
As an alternative to native trumpet vine, I'm seeing more people growing its Asian counterpart, Chinese trumpet vine (Campsis grandiflora), shown above. This vine is even showier, featuring larger, flared, peachy-orange blooms. It's a fast climber too, reaching 30 feet or more if not carefully controlled. Some folks say it doesn't sucker like the native one. I say a sucker is born every minute. The safest way to grow Chinese trumpet vine is on a column or arbor where it can't reach other plants or structures.
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Grumpy will continue to make the following argument as long as he breathes—native plants are not always better. Choose the right plant for the right spot, no matter its place of origin.