Vol. 12 Issue 3, Fall 2007
By Emily Bzydk
I was sitting on my backyard swing the other day reading a book, when I heard a loud buzzing nearby. I looked up and found myself face to face with a small green hummingbird. It wavered back and forth, studying me, making sure I was no threat, before getting to the business it had come for.
The reason for its visit was the plant that grew on the swing set from my childhood, a large woody vine with dense green foliage and large showy red/orange blooms. The flowers are shaped like trumpets, giving the plant its common name.
The trumpet vine or trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is also known as “Cow itch vine,” due to the irritating reaction it produces upon contacting the skin of some people.
This spot on my swing set is one of my favorite places because of the trumpet vine. Besides the hummingbirds, the plant attracts much activity. Ants bustle along its long dipping branches down to the blossoms at the ends, where bees and other flying insects also enjoy the nectar all summer long. Catbirds nest in the dense interior, with the emerald green leaves shielding them from sight. The large pods that follow the flowers produce hundreds of brown papery seeds. The trumpet vine is native to woodlands of the southeastern United States, and is also a popular garden perennial plant across much of the country, prized for its graceful growth, gorgeous blooms, and the wildlife it attracts.
If you choose to cultivate the trumpet vine, you must be aware of its vigorous growth rate. The vine is fast growing and high climbing, reaching 40 feet tall. It uses aerial roots along its stems to adhere to surfaces aloft. It will constantly send out horizontal branches in its quest for space and light, and its roots will send additional suckers up out of the ground. This is why the plant does best in woodland gardens and natural areas where it has space to grow.
It will cover fences and structures easily, so it may take some effort to keep it in bounds. Pruning in the winter should keep the vine in check. Keep the vine away from small buildings or arbors if you don’t want them taken over by this resilient vine. Our trumpet vine is slowly taking over the old swing set, along with a native honeysuckle and wisteria. But we don’t mind surrendering the old structure, especially since the presence of the vine and all its customers and tenants bring us such pleasure.