Trumpet Vines

Whether "Invasive" or "Aggressive," You Should Fear Their Spread

Trumpet vine (image) spreads so aggressively that many don't want it. Count me in that group.
Trumpet vine spreads too aggressively for many gardeners to bother with. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy, Botany of Trumpet Vines

Plant taxonomy classifies trumpet vine plants as Campsis radicans. Another common name is "trumpet creeper" (also spelled as one word).

Botanically speaking, trumpet vines are classified as a deciduous woody vines.

Plant Features

These striking but problematic plants (see below) commonly bear clusters of orange, reddish-orange or salmon flowers throughout much of the summer.

You can also buy cultivars with yellow flowers. Flowers are succeeded by 6-inch pods. Campsis radicans may climb a tree if given the opportunity and can reach a length of up to 40 feet. The foliage is pinnately compound (that is, the leaves are divided into multiple leaflets, and the overall appearance is feather-like).

While there is nothing bashful about the vegetative growth of this plant, blooming is another matter, as Campsis radicans may require a several-years-long establishment period before it flowers.

USDA Planting Zones, Growing Requirements

Indigenous to the southeastern U.S., trumpet vine plants can be grown in USDA planting zones 4-9.

Grow trumpet vines in full sun to partial shade (but they will bloom better in full sun). Not a fussy grower, this is an example of a plant that will grow just fine in poor-to-average soil.

Creeper vs. Climber

Do not conclude from the alternate common name "trumpet creeper" that this plant is restricted in its growth to hugging the ground.

Especially if the vine receives a little help from you (training), it will climb. The specific epithet, radicans is Latin for "growing roots" and refers to the aerial roots of trumpet vines, a feature that grants them a modest ability to scale surfaces. They share this feature with poison ivy (Rhus radicans).

Trumpet vines are just one of many plants that can damage house siding if allowed to grow up a wall; others include:

Warning, and a Distinction Between "Invasive" and "Aggressive"

Trumpet vines are vigorous spreaders and may naturalize in areas to which they are exotic, earning them the status of invasive plants in those areas. Even in their native range, these orange thugs are aggressive to the point of being a nuisance. Note that there is a difference between the terms "invasive" and "aggressive." Technically, to be classified as invasive in a region, a plant must be foreign (or "alien") to that region. On its home turf, such a plant would be termed "aggressive," "thuggish," etc. (choose your synonym). Of course, to the gardener faced with prospect of having to control trumpet vines, the point is merely academic: regardless of what you call them, you have your work cut out for you.

These plants spread by suckering underground runners, as well as from seed.

The flip side of all this aggressiveness: they are useful in soil erosion prevention.

Concerns over the plants' aggressiveness extends to use around your home, garage or outdoor storage shed: The holdfasts of their aerial roots can damage siding on buildings.

Campsis radicans is also a skin irritant for some people.

Care (Pruning), Wildlife Attracted by Trumpet Vines

Most care issues revolve around containing trumpet vines: They are not for low-maintenance landscaping. Grow them on a sturdy garden arbor or wooden fence. This vigorous grower does need to be contained if you don't want it spreading all over the place! Faithfully pull up any new shoots that pop up from the root system, and remove the seeds before they fall upon the earth.

Campsis radicans blooms on new growth (new wood), so many people prune it in early spring.

Birdwatchers are often tempted to plant trumpet vines because they draw hummingbirds. But other plants that attract hummingbirds are available, including some lower-maintenance plants.

My Own Experience

I have a lot of personal experience with trumpet vines -- specifically, bad experience. My now deceased dad, a hummingbird aficionado, saw trumpet vines advertised in a nursery catalog, touting them as the ultimate "hummingbird plants." He decided to plant some. But this aggressive plant, once established, began spreading out of control; and now, decades later, I continue the on-going battle of trying to rein it in.

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