Throw me a liana

Throw me a liana and  hoist me up out of this new rabbit hole I've been exploring.

Liana, you ask? 

Yes, liana - a woody vine that is rooted at the ground and uses trees and other vertical structures to climb up. That's the first thing I found in this rabbit hole.

Liana - like this Trumpet Creeper vine, Campsis radicans, that is growing up and over a metal trellis in my sister's garden. I remember when they got it, they were all excited about their new Clematis.   I hated to burst their little gardening bubble of excitement, but I told them it was nothing more than common trumpet vine.

I said... "Remember how the neighbor had that big vine that grew up through that spruce tree in their front yard and every year he tried to cut it back and it always grew back and had those big orange flowers on it?"


"That's what you just bought."

They kept it anyway. In their defense, it is not a bad vine. It is just a big woody vine, a liana, that needs the right home.   I think their metal trellis is a good home for it.

A few days ago, I saw the seed pods on this Trumpet Creeper. I'd never seen them up close before, or remembered them if I had. This sent me down into the rabbit hole to find out what family this plant comes from.  I didn't plan to stay long in that rabbit hole.

It's in the Bignoniaceae, also known as the Trumpet Creeper family.

You know what other plant is in the Trumpet Creeper family? Catalpa, as in the southern catalpa tree, Catalpa bignonioides and the northern catalpa tree, Catalpa speciosa.

My grandmother had a big catalpa tree in her backyard and we always called it the cigar tree. It also had long seed pods that hung from its high branches. When they finally fell to the ground, we'd pick them up and want to take piles of them home. I'm not sure what we ever did with them, once we had them in our little fists.  We (because I assume my sisters and brother thought the same) had visions of Indians picking them up and actually smoking them as cigars, because sometimes the grown ups called it the Indian cigar tree. We had no idea where cigars actually came from, never knew that cigars were made, not grown, so why not think they grew on trees? We were little kids, what did we know of these worldly things? 

As far as the tree, I presume it was a northern catalpa (C. speciosa) because that species is native in this area. 

I don't recall if it ever had catalpa worms on it, though.  That's what we called the larva of the catalpa sphinx moth that feeds on the leaves of the catalpa tree in the spring. I've seen those worms in other catalpa trees over the years, just not in my grandmother's old tree. Catalpa worms are supposed to be an excellent fishing bait, though I have no personal experience with this.  I'm not much into fishing. I'm guessing my Dad, who was a fisherman, might have tried to fish with catalpa worms. As I recall, you could buy them in the spring at bait shops. You probably still can.

Anyway, back to lianas. I also discovered that the seeds of the Trumpet Creeper vine have to be stratified (exposed to cold for a period of time) to germinate.  Remember that if you decide to collect some seeds and sprout your own.   Remember also that this particular liana is somewhat invasive in some areas so plant with caution.  Maybe, if possible, you should remove the seed pods before they mature, just to keep it from self-sowing elsewhere in your garden.

So, where's that liana? Hoist me up with it, I've been down here in this Bignoniaceae rabbit hole long enough, exploring woody vines, large trees, and remembering times when I was a kid.

Whew, that's a pretty nice rabbit hole, if you ask me.


  1. We have a Chiltpa tree in our yard which is absolutely beautiful. We get those caterpillars that will eat the leaves, but the bats fly by night and pick them off. They can get quite large.

  2. We have one of those big ole Northern Catalpa trees in our garden. I planted it because I have fond memories of my Dad and I picking those moth caterpillars off the tree to go fishing. I had no idea that they were related to the trumpet vine. Makes sense when you look at those pods. Thanks for dragging me down the rabbit hole this morning.

  3. I love trumpet vines. My parents always had one and they brought me a start from theirs. Sadly, I left it when we moved. It was on an arched trellis. Since I have a heavy metal trellis, I hope to have another trumpet vine.

  4. Ah, memories of childhood! I recently gathered a bunch of those Catalpa pods in Asheville and brought them home to join the dried Allium heads in a basket. There is something about them that calls to us. The trumpet vine is a bit of a monster, although the hummingbirds love the flowers. More polite is the Bignonia capreolata, crossvine.

  5. Catalpa's were great for climbing. We made one our clubhouse and had the best times climbing all over it. Like Frances, I prefer the evergreen Crossvine to the Trumpet creeper. gail

  6. Yes, I have a picture somewhere of Sarah and I up in a catalpa tree. The name used to sound Italian to me, so I was surprised to learn it was a North American native. Such showy flowers! I'm a fan of trumpet creeper (in the right place), too.

  7. Oh gosh, such memories! When I was very young (grammar school age), one of our neighbors had a catalpa tree. It had the most beautiful flowers in spring but we were always warned that the pods were poisonous and not to touch them! (And we never did.)

    We have red and yellow trumpet creepers that are actually pretty well behaved... but I've never seen a seed pod! (Maybe the rabbits or squirrels get to them before I spot them???)

  8. I just learned a couple weeks ago that the trumpet vine formed those long pods. I guess I had only seen it in the orange bloom stage.
    Thanks for the info.

  9. I have two Trumpet Vines growing up two posts my Husband made me to form an entrance to Big Garden. They form a lovely arch but require effort to keep them in bounds. Pick your spot to grow them carefully as they are also invasive - sending runners underground so that I am constantly pulling them out of the perennial border and veggie beds.

  10. Catalpas make me grin... remembering the big trees in the yard of the apartment building where I lived as a child, remembering how my friends and I used to call them "napkin trees" because of the size of the leaves (and that was also what we used them for when we were playing in the yard). And remembering standing at a bar earlier this year, late at night, and being asked by one rather drunk guy, "hey, what's the botanical name of the dwarf catalpa?" There are some conversations that only happen at horticulture workshops!


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