Five Monster Vines You Must Never Plant

September 1, 2013 | By | Comments (28)

Vines can be beautiful additions to the garden, but some of them are rampaging monsters. Here are five you should NEVER plant if you value your home, your environment, and your sleeping cat.

Wisteria

Trust me — this isn’t a good idea. Photo: Ralph Anderson

Monster Vine #1 — Japanese or Chinese Wisteria
I know, I know — wisteria in bloom is just so beautiful. It’s deliciously fragrant too.  How could Grumpy be so boorish to label it a monster? Because I’ve seen what both of these Asian species, Wisteria floribunda and Wisteria sinensis, can do. Tear off gutters. Bend iron railings. Strangle trees. Smother entire woods and hillsides. See that house up there? If the owners don’t have yard men equipped with 40-foot ladders prune those vines about every two weeks, it’ll soon look like crackers crumbled up on your soup.

Asian wisterias spread by seed, runners, and suckers. They’ll grow as tall as whatever they’re growing on. So if they get loose in your yard, watch out. The only way I know to kill one is to cut through the trunk near the ground and paint the cut end with Brush-Killer according to label directions. Fortunately, there is a nice, friendly, native wisteria you can plant — American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). Unlike its cousins, it’s well-behaved and doesn’t destroy things. Look for a selection called ‘Amethyst Falls’ at the garden center.

Bittersweet

An end to this vine will NOT be bittersweet. Photo: Luke McCoy

Monster Vine # 2 — Oriental Bittersweet
I keep urging our editor at Southern Living not to run holiday photos of bittersweet wreaths on doors, bittersweet boughs on mantels, bittersweet branches on gates, and bittersweet draped around pumpkins, but so far no luck. Its bright-red seeds and yellow seed capsules make such a pretty picture! How could something so pretty be evil?

Easy. Unlike our relatively tame native American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a thug. Birds eat the seeds and spread them everywhere. Suckers from the roots shoot up yards from the original plant. Its thick, sinewy branches throttle small trees and climb as far as they can reach. If you buy a bittersweet wreath for the holidays, please seal it inside a plastic trash bag when you’re through with it and put it out with the trash. To kill an Oriental bittersweet growing in your yard, treat it as recommended for wisteria.

Porcelain berry

Porcelain berry proves you can have too much of a good thing. Photo: magnolia 1000

Monster Vine #3 — Porcelain Berry
I remember the first time I saw porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) in my woody ornamentals class in college. I was awestruck. No plant has prettier berries! Berries start out yellow, progress to pale lilac, then deep magenta, and finally end up bright blue. Often all four colors are present in the same cluster. Whoa.

Whoa is me and you. For you see, as with bittersweet, birds love the berries of this ornamental grape from Asia. They gobble them all, poop out the seeds, and every seed germinates. With its thin, pliable stems, porcelain berry doesn’t crush structures or plants. But I’ve seen it draping 60-foot trees in Pennsylvania. It’s the kudzu of the North.

Japanese honeysuckle

If you haven’t sucked the nectar from honeysuckle blooms, you haven’t lived. Photo: melissa

Monster Vine #4 — Japanese Honeysuckle
Few childhood memories are as sweet as the scent of honeysuckle blooms or the single drop of nectar stolen from each flower. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) would be a treasure if only it would stay put. But it won’t.

From plants first sold as ornamentals by East Coast nurseries, Japanese honeysuckle can now be found growing wild in 3/4 of the U.S. This fast-growing, twining vine spreads by berries eaten by birds and by suckers. It turns woodlands into impenetrable thickets. In high-rainfall areas like the Southeast, it’s nearly impossible to eradicate. I consider it, Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinsense), and kudzu to be the South’s three worst landscape weeds.

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper — pretty, but sneaky. Photo: JBColorado

Monster Vine #5 — Virginia Creeper
So far, all of the monster vines have been alien invaders. Now it’s time to put the hurt on one of our own — our native Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). This vine doesn’t twine, but uses small, root-like tendrils to climb straight up anything — bark, steel, concrete, chain-link fences, PVC. Anything. And it grows fast.

I knows it’s not PC to criticize native plants whose pretty berries provide food for birds (notice the pattern here?), but I’m growing to hate this vine. Seedlings sprout everywhere in my yard, runners tunnel below the soil and come up 20 feet away, and the vines get on everything. Virginia creeper’s one redeeming virtue is its brilliant red fall foliage. But that ain’t enough. Get it outta here!

COMMENTS

  1. Steve Bender

    MN, the reason is that these vines are pretty and people don’t think about anything else. Of course, many natives such as Virginia creeper are invasive too.

    September 9, 2013 at 10:12 am
  2. M N

    So why are these foreign invaders permitted to be sold, especially when there are native versions that are not invasive?

    September 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm
  3. Tina Creger

    Like it!

    September 5, 2013 at 4:22 pm
  4. Steve Bender

    Horribly Irresponsible Dolts Who Must Be Shunned.

    September 5, 2013 at 10:47 am
  5. Tina Creger

    And what would be the title of that list?!

    September 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    The reason I didn’t include kudzu, people, is that nobody actually PLANTS it. And if YOU do, you’re on a separate list.

    September 4, 2013 at 1:26 pm
  7. Lynda Bailey

    I have just cut down a 60ft pecan tree that had ivy within 5ft of the top. The stems of the ivy were 3-4 in in diameter at the bottom. The guys had to cut the ivy stems to get a 3ft section of limb to come on down. Never more will I have any ivy.

    September 3, 2013 at 6:43 pm
  8. Martina Creger

    Yep, ivy’s pretty bad too, we also have that happily climbing the brick house.

    September 3, 2013 at 5:17 pm
  9. Tina Whisnant

    Heck, I can’t GET sweet autumn clematis to grow, and I’d like it to. Tried to plant some of the seeds, but no germination. As I told a friend of mine, a Master Gardener, things are invasive only if you don’t like ‘em. Most of these plants are at least pretty, or fragrant–what I have issues with is ivy, which is neither, the goat won’t touch it, and it strangles everything. MUCH rather have clematis or honeysuckle to deal with!

    September 3, 2013 at 10:38 am
  10. Jeff Minnich

    Kudzu–ugh–scourge,bane, nightmare…my trashy neighbors in the rental next door cultivate it because it is “green” and “carefree”…nightmare. It is now covering their mighty shade trees and everything else. I can get home from a weekend away and find seedlings, 10′ long vines, and my plants being invaded by it. Lawd. I’ve called my county’s invasive plant control and they’ve checked it out, yet not done a thing about it. I fear my entire neighborhood will be under kudzu very shortly!

    September 2, 2013 at 11:42 am
  11. Becky Carlisle

    We have a beautiful trumpet vine. We only let the main one grow and cut or pull the runners. Ours is like an umbrella. The little birds love it as a safe haven for them to escape hawks. We trim it every fall to keep its shape. I have red honeysuckle but planted in a wooden barrel and have a wooden frame for it to run. Hummingbirds love these plants.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:29 pm
  12. Rebteach09

    …and they left off the souths most notorious villain, Kudzu.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:53 pm
  13. kelly skewes

    I love my chinese wisteria..It’s crazy big and about 11 yrs old.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm
  14. Gerry Red Eagle

    I have been battling the trumpet
    vine for years. It grows under anything to get to where it wants to go. It is now under the drive way, on the side of the house, the front of the house and the back of the house. If I don’t keep after it …I can see where it is going to take over the house completely.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm
  15. Emily

    Great article! Invasive species should be a given not to plant, but some people just aren’t aware of the damage they create. Good to know about the native species that can be a real problem, too. Side note: should anyone consider it, never plant pompous grass–it’s as insidious as vines!

    September 1, 2013 at 2:13 pm
  16. Linda Stewart Wells

    Wild grape vines are another bane to living on wooded property in the South. We struggle with them all the time.

    September 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm
  17. Margie

    Don’t forget the Japanese climbing fern. Beautiful plant, but deadly to get rid of.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  18. Nan Elliott Rice

    Trumpet vine is horrible. It pulls the siding off the house and I had to keep it out of things like the telephone box and electric boxes by constantly pulling it down. The bad thing is the main root is under a concrete slab,,, It’s a nightmare

    September 1, 2013 at 1:10 pm
  19. Rachel Lewis Freeman

    Writing from Michigan to endorse those who’ve added autumn clematis to the list. I think the previous owner planted it by a fence 30 years ago. I accidentally dug it up there but it’s come up in every area of my yard…in flower beds, under and up trees.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:57 pm
  20. Nancy Dimick

    I agree on the Trumpet Vine (aka Hummingbird vine). It has taken over the fence across the back of the yard and popped boards out. Now it is also coming up in my veggie garden and by the house on the other side of the pool, even in cracks in pavement. I was surprised that it isn’t in the list (and I’ve been batting wisteria for years too ~sigh~)

    September 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm
  21. Martina Creger

    And if you amend your selections to include the above recommendation, please, please add sweet autumn clematis. It is blooming now and is very pretty hanging all over the trees, consuming the deck, crossing the driveway, covering feet of my back fence…plotting where it’s heading next. And that’s just in my yard!

    I admit I planted it willingly 12 years ago.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm
  22. Chris

    Can we add Trumpet Vine to this list??!

    September 1, 2013 at 11:31 am
  23. Allan Douglas

    I live on a forested mountain side. As I trim back the trees and brush I encounter Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle. Small versions get into our “lawn” (and I use the term loosely) so I must be vigilant, but in the woods I find some monsters. Earlier this year I cut out a honeysuckle vine that was 3″ in diameter at the base and had climbed a tall tree. The tree died and fell over. The vine made it really difficult to clean up the mess.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:49 am
  24. Amy

    Ugh… I spelled “their”, “there”. Hate that!

    September 1, 2013 at 10:39 am
  25. andrea

    I planted a fall blooming clamatis with very time white cluster like blooms and it has also turned into a nightmare. It keeps seeding itself everywhere. I killed off the original plant but it spread to my neighbors and so I keep having to weed it out of my yard because they kept it in their yards. :(

    September 1, 2013 at 10:38 am
  26. Amy

    There is a 6th one!! Muscadine grapes. Don’t get me wrong, we love our jelly. It brings us together as a family while making the 86 jars of this year harvest. Seriously why 86, who can eat that much? Apparently my husband thinks we can!
    Anyway, these pretty vines (or not so pretty) have taken over our detached garage, torn down the back patio cover, are suffocating an orange tree, making there way up a huge Red Oak as we speak, and I am pretty sure are the cause of the death of one Native Pecan tree! As soon as I can stand the Texas heat (first cool front) I am going out with a hack saw and reclaiming my property! Jelly or no jelly I can’t live this way!

    September 1, 2013 at 10:37 am
  27. Tinkabell

    Not sure about the other vines but goats LOVE honeysuckle…they can go through a field in no time…would have to check on the others as to whether they are poison to goats…doubt if wisteria is but the others???? My Nubians are great for keeping anything under 7′ under control. ;-)

    September 1, 2013 at 10:37 am
  28. Angela

    That all depends on if you can keep vines under control and where you put them. I have wooded areas were I can trip back as I want to and let them grow and they don’t effect anything or do any damage

    September 1, 2013 at 10:23 am

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