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Wild Vines

by Valerie (September 2, 2000)
cat brier
As inhospitable as our climate may seem, there are many plants adapted to it, and when they built our house about 15 years ago, even the bulldozer couldn't eradicate the natural vegetation. When we moved in, there were a couple of trees, a few newly planted shrubs, and bare dirt. We soon discovered that the dirt was but a thin cosmetic layer over a wide variety of rocks set in clay. From this most unlikely base, numerous plants have reappeared and continue to do so in spite of all the landscaping, digging, and planting we do.

While they are persistent, none of these vines are any problem - they grow slowly and are easy to cut off, if not dig out. The only one we eliminated entirely was poison ivy (I'm not allergic to it and think it looks rather pretty, but we would like our gardens to remain socially acceptable). The other vine of which I am not very fond is cat brier, or saw greenbrier (smilax bona-nox). While it looks rather pretty with its spotted leaves, the spines are very painful. However, no matter how far down I dig, the roots of this plant continue, so, like fireants, it is here to stay and must just be dealt with. yellow passionflower
All the other vines featured here are more acceptable, and in fact one has always been a favorite. The yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) is a native with fine, wiry stems and pretty three-lobed leaves. I noticed this plant years ago, but never saw it flower, and didn't know that it was a passionflower. Then, early this summer, some of the Gulf fritillary caterpillars ate all the leaves off one of the vines, and then I saw two small, round fruits. One was dark purple and the other was still green. The next day, the purple one was gone and, a couple of days later, the other ripened and disappeared, presumably eaten by a bird. As if I didn't have enough clues, I finally saw the plant identified at a local public garden and realized what we had. Now, the largest of the vines is producing buds so I may yet get to see the blossoms. I will also try to transplant the large number of vines that grow in the yard and are constantly getting mown down with the grass, but that project will have to wait for milder weather, as we are experiencing a rather severe heat wave and drought. mustang grape vine
Wild, or mustang, grapes (Vitis mustangensis) grow all over this area, often covering whole trees, fences and utility poles. The ones in our yard never get very large since I cut them back, but their pretty leaves add a nice touch to several of the gardens. Their leaves vary considerably, from being almost plain to having deep, intricate notches. The stems are rather woody and the base, if left intact, gets quite thick after a few years.

Although I try to get accurate identifications on the plants that are illustrated in these articles, sometimes I'm not positive of my information. The next three plants are probably correctly identified, but I'm not totally confident, since some sources showed different characteristics than those here. Ordinary looking wild vines that look a lot like weeds are not the most common plants to be included in many field guides.

A really beautiful foliage plant, peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea) grows in abundance in all our shady gardens. I've never seen them bloom or produce fruit, but I also have to cut them back periodically because they will overgrow other plants. The leaves are a deep bluish green and always look pristine, without insect or disease damage. The stems are stiff and reddish in color. This particular vine spreads very fast underground and is constantly sending up new shoots.

We have one specimen of snailseed vine (Cocculus carolinus), near a large oak tree in our neighbor's yard. This plant is also called Carolina coralbead and redberry moonseed and the leaves resemble ivy. It is another of those vines that can completely cover a shrub or tree, but often it just grows amongst the undergrowth in forests. Even though it has been growing relatively unmolested for at least a decade, it has not produced flowers or berries, but continues to grow larger each year.snailseed vine
Ivy treebine, or sorrelvine (Cissus trifoliata), is a beautiful ground cover, with thick, light green leaves that are deeply notched. It is another plant with indescribably deep roots so that if it is pulled up or cut, it always manages to come back. ivy treebine

With all these native vines, it might be surmised that we would not need to plant any other ground covers, but, in our enjoyment of variety, we also have a full compliment of various ivies and creepers.

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