Twin Trumpets Not Identical After All

No matter how alike they appear, there can be remarkable differences in personality and performance.


<i>Campsis radicans</i> 'Monbal' offers profuse, tropical-looking flowers and plants that stand up to cold winters in USDA Zone 4. (SHNS photo courtesy Peter A. Hogg Photography)

By: Maureen Gilmer

Country homes, cottage gardens and romantic hideaways are defined by one plant: the trumpet vine. What clematis is to England, the trumpet vine is to America, where the flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds.

It seems to be incredibly well adapted to both the tropics and the more temperate gardens farther north. But this adaptability is misleading, for the red trumpet vines are indeed twins, with two very different plants producing almost identical flowers.

What complicates matters more, is that trumpet vines have been shuffled around by botanists. Formerly, both red flowers were classified into genus Bignonia, but today each has been given its own separate genus.

In older gardening books, it can be tough to know which vines they are talking about when discussing Bignonia, which today applies to a wholly different orange trumpet vine.

To bring traditional red trumpet vine charm to your garden or landscape, it's vital you choose the right plant for your climate. While there is geographic overlap where both survive, they are best divided to get the biggest, most floriferous and beautiful plants possible for your garden.



Discovered by Monrovia Nursery, this new variety of<i>Campsis radicans</i>offers improved habit and flower color over the species. (SHNS photo courtesy Peter A. Hogg Photography)

The hardiest of these two is a native of the southeastern states, Campsis radicans.

It's deciduous, which makes it reliably cold hardy to USDA Zone 4. It will grow happily in nearly any state except the most northerly, and will easily naturalize wherever there is enough water in the dry season. Consider it equal to wisteria in size and growth speed once established.

This vine leafs out in spring and immediately starts fast vegetative growth that will bear flowers at its tips in summer and early fall.

If you trim it back during the early spring growth phase you will sacrifice flowers. To control growth, prune after flowering in the fall or dormant season. Expect this vine to attach itself to surfaces with aerial roots which are not as damaging as other self-clinging types.



The tropical blood-red trumpet vine (<i>Distictis buccinatoria</i>) produces lush blossoms nearly year-round in frost-free climates. (SHNS photo courtesy Peter A. Hogg Photography)

Out of the moist regions of Mexico comes the tropical blood red trumpet vine, which thrives in the moist coastal climates of the southern United States.

Formerly known as Bignonia cherere and recently reclassified as Distictis buccinatoria, it is evergreen, which makes it a far more attractive plant in the off season. In humid regions it is well known for snaking up porch posts to reach the roof, where it blooms like crazy in the reflected heat.



In the garden, frost tender <i>Distictis buccinatoria</i> may appear identical to cold-hardy counterpart<i>Campsis radicans</i>. (SHNS photo courtesy Peter A. Hogg Photography)

Distictus will freeze back to the ground at 32 degrees F, and will root kill below 25. It begins flowering in early spring and continues through the fall, providing color far longer than Campsis.

The flowers are about one-third larger, too. It also clings better to walls, fences and buildings, but its holdfasts can potentially disfigure wood finishes. Forked tendrils produce little suction-cup feet that cling tenaciously to any surface. If the vine is removed the surface will be visibly scarred.

Buy both trumpet vines in large container sizes to get them off to a quick start. If you want them to cover an overhead arbor, start training the strongest runners from the start. When they reach the desired height, force them to grow laterally by nipping the tips to encourage branching.

Expect to tie up both vines at first to bring them close enough to walls to start clinging on their own.

Red trumpet vines can be a stunning highlight in any garden, adding cottage country charm or an injection of hot tropical color.

The key is understanding that no matter how alike these twins may appear, there can be remarkable differences in personality and performance.

(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of Weekend Gardening on DIY-Do It Yourself Network. For more information, visit: or Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

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