Plant of the Week
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata L.)
By Larry Stritch
Crossvine, occasionally called trumpet flower, is a beautiful native, semi-evergreen, climbing, woody, vine. The common name, crossvine, is derived from the shape of the pith in the vine’s stem when viewed in cross-section. Crossvine is a member of the Bignonia family (Bignoniaceae). The genus Bignonia was named by the French botanist, Joseph Pitton de Tournefort to honor his friend Abbe’ Jean-Paul Bignon. The species epithet capreolata comes from the Latin word meaning “tendrils.”
Crossvine is found throughout the southeastern part of the country, from Missouri to Eastern Texas to Florida to Maryland to southern Illinois. Crossvine is found in rich woods, swamps, fencerows, and roadsides. It may grow 50 or more feet long and uses its tendrils to attach its self to trees or fences or through the tops of thickets. The leaves are semi-evergreen, opposite, compound with two basal, leaflets with a branched tendril between the two leaves. The tips of the tendril have adhesive disks that allow the vine to attach itself to a tree or other available support such as a fence. The leaves are bright green during the growing season turning to a reddish purple color in winter.
The flowers occur in clusters of two to five in the axils of the leaves. The flowers are trumpet shaped, commonly orange on the outside and yellow on the inside; rarely the flowers are yellow or a deep orange-red on the outside. Flowering occurs from mid spring to late summer. The flowers are pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird and ants are commonly seen stealing nectar from the flowers.
Crossvine is becoming more commonly found in nurseries and garden centers. Cultivars have been developed that are a deeper orange-red or brighter yellow on the outside of the flower. Some of the named ornamental cultivars are ‘Tangerine Beauty,’ ‘Wabash Valley,’ ‘Shalimar Red,’ ‘Helen Fredel,’ ‘Jekyll,’ ‘Dragon Lady,’ and ‘Atrosanguinea’ to name a few. As an ornamental vine, crossvine is easier to manage then its close relative trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) which is much more rampant and needs greater attention to pruning to keep it in bounds. Crossvine is a wonderful native plant to add to your backyard garden. The numerous, beautiful flowers and the accompanying ruby-throated hummingbirds is a natural for homeowners wishing to establish wildlife plantings. Cross-vine is an excellent native ornamental alternative to non-native, invasive, climbing vines such as oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).