Some native plants sound good but have huge downside


I walked around my yard recently and realized certain plants are taking over my landscaping. Most of the culprits are woody vines. Most are also native species and natives are all the rage right now.

Just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it’s desirable in one’s landscape. My greatest problem comes from a vine with gorgeous reddish orange flowers. These flowers attract hummingbirds in droves. Butterflies and native bees love them too. The vine in question is called trumpet creeper or trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).

I read an article recently profiling this aggressive vine as one of the native species we must encourage. First, it needs no encouragement. Even kudzu is easier to contain. Trumpet vine will quickly cover shrubbery, trees and buildings. It’s also a prolific seed producer and these seeds will spread everywhere. Plants will spring up in your lawn and garden beds in no time.

Internet articles abound detailing how to propagate this menace. It may have some good points, but this is not a plant to encourage. It’s on par with Callery (Bradford) pear. It has an aggressive root system and will eventually take over your yard.

Some people plant it in pots to lessen its invasiveness. Some even bury pots in the ground to slow this vine down. I think this is wishful thinking. I’ve declared war on it on my property and I’m still losing.

I’ve pretty much eliminated poison ivy, but trumpet vine is in all my crape myrtles. It’s also growing up the sides of my house and has invaded all the shade trees bordering my property. Muscadine grapes are tough, but trumpet vine has crept its way into them too.

For those who don’t know what it looks like, it has a woody stem much like grape, Virginia creeper or wisteria. Leaves with multiple blades emerge from stems in groups of two. Vines climb by tendrils and can grow 40 feet tall.

Flowers are brightly colored and grow in bunches. As the name indicates, they are trumpet-shaped. As flowers fade, bean-shaped seed pods develop, and they are filled with dozens of seeds.

These plants have copious roots, so controlling their spread is difficult. Simply killing the tops or cutting them down won’t put a dent in them. Several applications of systemic herbicides are necessary to kill them.

I usually use Round-up (glyphosate) on the stumps at full strength after first cutting the vines close to the ground. Repeated treatments are still often necessary. No options are available to spray directly on trees or shrubbery. Some broadleaf herbicides can limit the growth of trumpet vine in lawns, but they’re hard to kill.

Reports are mixed as to whether this vine is poisonous to pets. According to most sources, the worst symptoms are a mild dermatitis. People face the same risk, although symptoms are far less than from contact with poison ivy or its relatives.

I would never recommend encouraging this plant even though it is native and has beautiful flowers. I cringe every time I see it being sold in nursery catalogs.

close-up of trumpet vine flower

Trumpet vine with seed pods trying to take over a saucer magnolia

Trumpet vine blasting through vinyl siding

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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4 Responses to Some native plants sound good but have huge downside

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Such slander is risky. I got in a spot of trouble for talking about the problems with natives. The main problem here is that so called ‘landscapers’ prescribe them to conserve water, but then the so called ‘gardeners’ water them to death. Many of our native are chaparral plants that do not want to be pruned. Another serious concern is that many plants that are native to California are remarkably combustible! Fire is a part of the natural ecosystem in most parts of California, so the plants are naturally adapted to take advantage of it. Yet, combustibility is ot an asset to the garden.

    • tedmanzer says:

      I’m generally a native fan, but sometimes practicality must prevail. Mosquitoes and poison ivy are native too, but I don’t want them around my house.

      • tonytomeo says:

        When proponents of marijuana justify their excessive indulgence of their favorite all purpose pharmaceutical by telling me that it is a plant, I remind them that poison hemlock is too.
        There was a site on the Guadalupe River in San Jose that needed to be ‘restored’ with native plants, which (seriously) included poison oak, because it is native. What is sillier than that is that there is a nursery that actually supplies it!

  2. mikeshuman1 says:

    Though I not garden nor landscape, I like to read about plants. Makes me want to take up a little gardening one day. Thanks.

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