Trillium discolor and T. decipiens

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) uses small clinging disk pads to climb high into trees. The brightly colored, tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.

Native vines don’t always get the garden attention they deserve. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) gets much of the positive attention while Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), and trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) battle for the lowest spot in the line-up. One of my favorite under-appreciated vines is crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), an evergreen vine that is just finishing up its blooming season here in the Piedmont. Often found high up in the trees, fallen blossoms on the ground are one way we notice it. Visitors to Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain, and other granite outcrops might also find it growing in the thin soils that border them, scrambling over stunted shrubs and trees.

A key to understanding vines and how we might use them in the landscape is to understand their attachment mechanism. I wrote a blog several years ago about that (you can find it here). Crossvine has clinging disks that help it adhere to tree bark and flat structures like wooden fences. The adhesion is not so strong that it damages the structure. It also may attach to slim branches and wire fences with tendrils.

Vines are scramblers, and crossvine is no exception; we often find it on rescues as just a couple of oppositely-arranged leaflets poking through the leaf litter in the winter (the leaves themselves are compound, but often only two leaflets show). Pull away the litter and you’ll find it is not a single plant but the opportunistic upward branch of a vine. Like many vines, a small piece can often regenerate into a new plant.

Crossvine is popular with hummingbirds, evergreen, and a spring bloomer — three characteristics that should endear it to more gardeners looking for a vine. With a range that spans the entire state, crossvine is one that we all can consider. Brightly colored cultivars such as ‘Tangerine Beauty’ and ‘Atrosanguinea’ are sometimes sold in better nurseries or ask a friend for a start. The common name, crossvine, is derived from the shape of the pith in the vine’s stem when viewed in cross-section, but I’ve never found one big enough that I was willing to cut it open to see that view.

Trillium maculatum and T. underwoodii

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) cultivar and winter foliage.


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