Vicious, vigorous, and vibrant vines
Many vines grow here in northern Florida, providing that jungle feel. In most any untended, wooded area, tangles of vines cover the trees and shrubs. You get the feeling that if you don't walk fast enough, a vine will grab you by the ankle and tie you to the nearest tree trunk. Carolina Jasmine, Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Creeper, Morning Glory, Catbriars, and Poison Ivy are representative of the good, bad, and vicious vines. I'll give you my secret strategies for combating the vicious ones.
The evergreen Carolina Jasmine or Yellow Jassamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) has fragrant and brilliant yellow flowers in the spring. Abundant in our yard, it climbs up many of our trees. I have some growing on a trellis used for a screen. Its small dark green leaves look good in all seasons.
Unlike some of the other vines, it's relatively easy to pull up if it's unwanted in a certain area, but when you do it smells faintly of licorice. While it's tolerant of drought, it grows much faster in a moist environment. This as a desirable native species for the reasons mentioned above, but don't eat them: all parts are poisonous
The Morning Glories or Bind Weed, (Ipomoea tricolor and others) are natives of both temperate and tropical America. Non-natives have long since escaped from cultivation and have become invasive. The leaves can be lanceolate heart-shaped or tri-lobed. One Morning Glory species (I. batatas) is an ancient root crop eaten by Aztecs and introduced into Europe in the 16th century and you know it as the sweet potato. (Yams are from a different plant in a separate family. For a comparison see: What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?). The seeds of some species were used by Aztecs for their hallucinogenic properties, thus Morning Glories are sometimes known as native LSD.
It's easy to see why Morning Glories have been prized in the garden, too. They bloom for the whole growing season. But if they get out of control on your lot, the best defense is to dig them up and make sure you get their fat storage roots. While it may be abundant, at least it's not vicious.
The Trumpet Creeper's (Campsis radicans) tubular orange flowers are favored by hummingbirds and butterflies. Its compound leaves grow in pairs on opposite sides of the vine. The attractive, tan bark on older vines tends to peel. It often grows in hedgerows along fields. It does best in partial to full sun and moist soil, but it's a native and can grow pretty much anywhere. If you look at the lead photo in this article, you can see its orange flowers high in the tree.
While this vine can grow as well as any once it's established, it can be cut back and trained into a shrub. It's a highly desirable native for any butterfly or hummingbird garden. It blooms for the whole season.
Virginia Creeper or Woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), a high climbing native, has unusual palmately compound leaves with five leaflets. With brilliant red fall foliage and blue berries on red stems, it's been grown in Europe (especially in Florence, Italy) as a cultivar because it grows well in a small container. It's in the grape family and is sometimes mistaken for Poison Ivy and often the two grow together.
Around here, it's pretty much treated as a weed, but the birds love the berries and the scarlet fall color is great even here in northern Florida. (Who knew that I'd be taking fall foliage photos on New Year's Day?) I have several areas where I've let it grow. The tendrils have a disc-like ends which may damage the paint or other surface on which it grows, but it will grow as a ground cover if there's nothing vertical. The sap of the Virginia Creeper contains oxalate crystals which can cause skin irritation and it has been used as an herbal purgative.
The oily resin in Poison Ivy ( Toxicodrendron radicans) that causes an itchy allergic reaction in most people is called Urushiol. The oil is not just in the leaves, but also in the wood including the roots. Learn to recognize its hairy climbing stem and don't burn it, because breathing in that smoke can cause a systemic allergic reaction and lung inflammation for the whole neighborhood. For more information see: Poison Ivy Dermatitis.
Poison Ivy grows just about anywhere and has three separate growth patterns to fool you. It can crawl on the ground. It can cling to the bark of a tree and send out horizontal branches that look like part of the tree. It can also just grow straight up from the ground like a shrub. (See the photo.) Poison Ivy always has three leaflets and while there are other plants with this arrangement they are usually not vines. Ask any gardener to help you identify it.
So how to you get rid of it? To be honest, you probably can't, but you can reduce its presence. The first step is to prepare yourself for attack. Slather on waterproof sun screen or one of the specialty poison ivy blocks to protect your skin and wear long sleeves if you can stand it. Designate one pair of gloves as P.I. gloves and don't use them for regular gardening chores, because the oils will persist. Pull up the smaller vines. Cut the vines growing up trees as close to the ground as possible and cut off the horizontal branches that you can reach to prevent accidental contact. Put the vines in the yard waste, not in your compost pile. Wipe your skin with alcohol first and wash yourself using lots of soap and lots of water as soon as you can. Wash with more than one type of soap/detergent (bar soap, body wash, and shampoo) because each one has a different method for cutting grease. Use the coldest water you can stand: you don't want to open up your pores. Wash your clothes, too.
Are you done? No. It will probably grow again from the roots and pieces you didn't get the first time around. Pull them up again. If they come back a third time, go in with an herbicide and carefully apply on the new growth. The reason you need to pull it up twice is to reduce the abundance and weaken the plants. At this point you may be done for six months, but plan to start again later. Each time should be easier than the last, but the birds we love to attract to our property will disperse more seeds.
If you do end up with a rash, two natural remedies are Jewelweed or Touch-me-not (Impatiens wallerana) and Plantain Weed (Plantago major). (Not the banana-like fruit.) Rub crushed leaves and stems on the rash. Jewelweed can actually prevent a rash if applied to areas of contact. Note: The weeping blisters from a Poison Ivy rash may be gross, but they're not contagious. Poison Ivy rash is contact dermatitis and only direct contact with the plant's oils produces the allergic reaction.
Clawed by the Catbriar
It's likely that most gardeners across the country have been clawed by catbriar (Smilax spp.) at one time or another. It grows in every state. On our lot, I've identified at least four species, S. rotundifolia, S. glauca, S. laurifolia, and S. auriculata. Smilax used to be a member of the Lily family, but they've been kicked out and now have their own family, Smilaceae. While the Latin names have changed some in recent years, the prickles have not changed. It's another native that I don't care to keep around.
Eradication method is similar to Poison Ivy, but complicated by the fact that Catbriar develops woody tubers. You can't just pull it up: you have to dig down and get as much of the tubers and woody runners as possible. I've dug up tubers bigger than a large apple. It will grow back from the smallest piece. You're most likely to find the missed tubers by looking for vigorous growth after the first phase of removal.
- Catbriar relatives include Sarsaparilla, so if you
wanted to grind up the tubers and figure out how to create the drink, you
could. Herbals claim that it cures all kinds of ailments.
- Smilax flowers, pollinated by flies, smell like carrion.
- Smilax does not make me want to smile, but the name wasn't a joke. Actually named by Linnaeus himself after the classic Greek name for this plant.
- The soft tips of the vines are edible and add a slightly sour taste. They are great in a tossed salad. I used to do this all the time, but it's backfired in recent years when my adult children tell their own kids that I made them eat catbriar(!) when they were little.
Who knows when a construction project has taken too long?
The vines do. Morning Glory and Virginia Creeper decorate this structure typical of construction sites: the porta-potty.
Ginny Stibolt moved to northeastern Florida in 2004 and even though she's a botanist and lifelong gardener, Florida gardening was a shock. She started writing The Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns for the Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville. This is one of those columns archived here on Floridata.com for your enjoyment. Now she's written three Florida garden books published by University Press of Florida: Sustainable Gardening for Florida, 2009; Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida with Melissa Contreras, 2013, and The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape, 2015. Check out her blog for the latest news and articles: www.GreenGardeningMatters.com