Horticulture Highlight: Trumpet creeper

July 5, 2023

Go north a dozen years

on a road overgrown with vines

to find the days after you were born…

            -Faith Shearin

One vine renown for rampant overgrowth is Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans. Native of moist woods, roadsides and fencerows from Pennsylvania to Missouri, south to Texas and Florida, it has since been naturalized well beyond its original range. Everywhere it now grows it is vigorous as well as a joyous sight in flower. Renowned plantsman Michael Dirr opines, “If you can not grow this, give up gardening…”.

green leaves and orange flowers

Its trumpet-shaped, orange to red, three-inch-long flowers, begin appearing in mid-July and the vine is reliably long-blooming, producing flowers into September. There also exists a cultivated variety with orange-yellow flowers (variety ‘Flava’).  Trumpet creeper flowers are borne at the terminal end of stems in clusters numbering 2-12. When fertilized, a three-to-five-inch-long capsule is produced, eventually splitting in two, spilling out numerous flattened dry seeds, each with 2 transparent wings.

Many examples of flora/fauna interconnections exist in the natural world. Worldwide, birds are important albeit lesser recognized pollinators of plants, most of these associations occurring in the tropics. However, in eastern North America there is one bird species, ruby-throated hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, that is responsible for a plant pollinator relationship.

orange flower

Trumpet creeper’s funnel-shaped flowers, with sugary nectar deep in its base, are seemingly designed for access by a ruby-throated’s long slender bill. Furthermore, the anthers of these flowers are arranged at the top of the flower-tube. The pistil is also located at the top of the flowers reaching out beyond the anthers. Thus, an evolutionary love-affair with perfect fit adaption occurs repeatedly as the hovering ruby-throated hummingbird pushes its beak, holding its extendable tongue, into the flower. Its tongue finds nectar, its head picks up ripened pollen and some of this pollen is transferred to a pistil of a different flower next visited while seeking more nectar. The birds are only trying to feed. Cross pollination occurs as a result.    

as I felt you

drifting through my being, in some gesture

that held me poised like a hummingbird above

the scarlet blossoms of the trumpet vine, I kissed you

above the heart

            -Rebecca Seiferle

plant on red background

The Trumpet creeper’s original natural range occurs within the ruby-throated hummingbird’s summer migratory peregrinations (winters in Florida, Mexico, Central America). This symbiotic relationship was illustratively recorded by John James Audubon (1785-1851) in his famous Birds of North America first published (1827-38) in the same era as Mount Auburn’s founding in 1831.

Audubon in turn was likely inspired by the earlier trumpet creeper/ruby throated hummingbird  artwork of Mark Catesby (1683-1749) in his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, the first published (1729-47) account of the flora and fauna of North America.   Illustrations appear above.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds also assist with pollination of cardinal flower, jewelweed, and trumpet honeysuckle among other plants. On a future visit to Mount Auburn look for our Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans and maybe a nectar questing hummingbird, at Oxalis Path and Fuchsia Path.

I dreamed this mortal part of mine

was metamorphosed to a vine,

which crawling one and every way

enthralled my dainty Lucia…

            -Robert Herrick

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

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