UNITED STATES—If more of us knew how vines compete in the wild, fewer of us would grow them in our home gardens. Understory plants that are satisfied with the sunlight that reaches them through a higher forest canopy are the most passive. Taller trees compete for sunnier exposure above. Vines are the most aggressive as they climb and overwhelm trees to get the best exposure on top of everything.
English and Algerian ivies happen to be among the more efficient of aggressive vines. While young, juvenile growth creeps along the ground searching for victims. Once it encounters something to climb, the stems develop aerial roots so that they can climb vertically. Once the climbing stems reach the top of the support, they develop shrubby adult growth that blooms and produces seed.
In home gardens, ivy is a popular and practical groundcover. However, if allowed to climb as a vine, it can root into walls and ruin paint. Even if the vines are removed, the unsightly aerial roots remain. The shrubby adult growth can overwhelm and even shade out and kill the trees or shrubbery that originally supported it. If it climbs onto a roof, it can accumulate debris and promote rot.
Creeping fig is even nastier. Its network of clinging vines grafts together as it grows, and then strangles the supportive trees as they continue to grow within the constrictive network of grafted stems. Yet, it and Boston ivy work nicely and harmlessly on concrete freeway sound-walls where their aggressive behavior is a major advantage, and their clinging aerial roots are not a problem.
Wisteria and red trumpet vine are considerably better behaved, but even they will crush lattice and anything else they wrap around. If they get into trees, they quickly grow out of reach. They may seem to be more appealing than the trees that they climb are, but can strangle and kill substantial limbs. Even without aerial roots, red trumpet vine clings with holdfast discs that damage paint.
Even though many vines are practical for home gardens, their personalities need to be considered. Star jasmine and honeysuckle can either grow as groundcover or as climbing vines. They can get big, but are not often destructive. Potato vine works nicely on fences, but gets aggressive in trees. Carolina jessamine, lilac vine and mandevilla are some of the more complaisant of vines.
Highlight: red trumpet vine
Red trumpet vine, Distictis buccinatoria, is more green than red. The tubular orangish red flowers with yellow throats are pretty while weather is warm, but not too abundant. Slightly distressed plants tend to bloom more abundantly. Each evergreen compound leaf is a pair of leaflets with a sneaky central tendril that will grab onto anything while holdfast discs get a more permanent grip.
Vines tolerate significant shade, but will find their way to sunnier situations where they grow more aggressively. They can easily reach the roof of a two story house, and grow out of reach in trees. Their holdfast discs will damage paint, and even shingles! Overgrown plants can be cut to the ground and allowed to regenerate.
Red trumpet vine wants to be watered somewhat regularly while young. Mature plants can disperse their roots well enough to find water if they do not get it directly.