The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …
I’m a ‘hugger’.
Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll confirm that I readily embrace people. However until I started writing this and looking at the benefits of hugs, I didn’t know there was such a controversy about hugging. I guess I’ll have to be more cautious in how I embrace people going forward. (Yeah. I find it difficult to see that lasting very long.)
The plants I’m highlighting today wrap themselves around pretty much anything that will allow them to rise higher. For them hugging is literally a way of life as they climb neighboring plants and trees to reach more sunlight. Some theories for this growth habit make vines seem like lazy opportunists – they don’t have to invest a lot of energy into growing supportive tissues if they utilize the woody stems of other plants for support.
Whatever their reasons there are some lovely vines – even those with prickly stems can have beautiful blossoms.
Hedge Bindweed is particular about how it ‘hugs’ other plants – it only does so in a counter-clockwise direction. It has something in common with other vines we’ll be looking at today – its blossoms are described as being ‘trumpet-shaped’. It is in the Morning Glory Family: Convolvulaceae. Bloom time is May – September.
This interesting vine is native to Cherokee County in North Carolina but I found it happily thriving on the riverbank across from our home.. According to the record on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website its distribution covers most of the United States and parts of Canada.
I’ve been unable to find out much about this plant and am continuing research. I’m just happy to have been able to identify it since it does not appear in any of my many field guides.
Pipevine (a.k.a. Dutchman’s Pipe)
Flower on this vine is pipe-shaped in brown-purple with yellowish calyx. Bloom time is May to June. It is the larvae plant for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies and provides nectar from its blossoms for the adults.
The white flowers don’t really have petals – only four sepals that appear to be petals. Bloom time is from July to September and in the fall the seeds form gray, silky plumes. The form of the seed plumes have given it two very different common names Old Man’s Beard and Devil’s Darning Needles.
The name means Mental Beauty because it has no healing properties according to The Language of Flowers. This source also says that some people refer to it as Love-Bind because “it clings as if in a loving embrace”. The common name of Virgin’s Bower is thought to come its introduction into England during Queen Elizabeth’s reign (the Virgin Queen); the bower portion referring to the way it easily creates a cover over arbors “making a pleasant refuge for young ladies.”
Those young ladies would be wise to just look upon the lovely plant as all parts of it are toxic because of the compound Anemonin.
The next two embracing plants are those that are also have trumpet-shaped blossoms – even more pronouncedly so than the Hedge Bindweed above. Both are also in the Honeysuckle family ( Caprifoliaceae).
The first brings back memories of my childhood when we would pluck blossoms and suck the ‘honey’ out of the narrow, stem-end of them. What I’d never noticed is that the vine produces black berries. It’s just as well I missed those because they are toxic. The Japanese Honeysuckle is an introduced plant and can be invasive in some areas.
The honeysuckle plant is also known as Woodbine which Shakespeare mentions it in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist. The female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm.
The common name means sweetness of disposition and is mentioned in Robert Herrick’s poem “To Meadows”.
Y’ave heard them sweetly sing,
And seen them in the Round:
Each Virgin, like a Spring,
With Honey-succles crowned.
Genus: Lonicera; Species: japonica
The next ‘honeysuckle’ vine has many common names – Coral Honeysuckle, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Firecracker Honeysuckle. Whatever name used it is unmistakable with red flowers lined with bright yellow interiors. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are its main pollinator. Hummingbirds are so attracted to red that I once had one visit a stuff sack I had with me while sitting on the first part of the snow field on Mt. Adams. I was so far above the tree line a hummingbird was the last thing I expected to see. The Trumpet Honeysuckle like it’s relative above produces berries but they are, you guessed it, red instead of black.
Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Mt. Adams View
The last vine we’ll explore has been cultivated for hundreds of years and more than 8000 varieties have been described; according to Medicinal Plants and Herbs about 20% of those are still in existence. This makes it difficult to know exactly which one you have found. However, in my home state, based on the NC State University NC Cooperative Extension agency information, there is only one variety here.
Having lived in North Carolina all my life I’ve always known this vine as the Muscadine. One of North Carolina’s award-winning wineries makes their wines only from Scuppernogs (another term I’ve always heard interchanged with Muscadine). However, my familiarity with this fruit vine did not include beneficial properties my research uncovered. The seeds, which contain oligomeric procyanidin compounds, are already used in commercial manufacturing and are prized for their antioxidant properties. Grape seed extracts have shown positive results in scientific testing. They are effective for reducing a tendency toward bruising, which increases as we age, as well as in treating varicose veins and other microcirculatory disorders.