Just about everyone in North America has opened up the Sunday paper to a glossy ad singing the praises of the beautiful Hummingbird Creeper. The advertisement assures the reader that their garden wouldn't be complete without this plant. The price is always attractive and usually there is a discount if you order more than one. This does not mean that everyone who purchases it will be pleased. On the contrary, chances are most customers are in for a battle that can last decades. There is a place in this world for everything, but sometimes wild things need to be left in the wild. Just like a pet raccoon, this vine can get into all sorts of trouble if left to its own devices. It is also known as the trumpet creeper, cow-itch vine or hellvine. This last name gives anyone paying attention a clue as to its true nature.
Campsis radicans is a deciduous, perennial vine native to the Eastern U.S., however since it is perfectly at home in USDA Zones 4-10, it has naturalized all across the continent and into Europe and Latin America as well. The woody vine produces aerial roots that allow it to climb just about any surface and it takes hold with a vengeance. In fact, that's what the Latin species radicans means: 'stems that root'. So anytime you see that specific epithet attached to a plant, know that each joint produces roots that cling to nearby structures. The roots can cause damage to homes and sheds and even pull over trees if the vine is allowed to ramble at will. If you plant one of these, give it a sturdy trellis away from anything else and keep the creeper well pruned. Since the trumpet creeper blooms on new wood, be ruthless when cutting it back.
Not only does this plant grow 40 feet or more, it sends out underground runners that sprout up quite a distance from the parent plant. Some gardeners plant it in a 5 gallon bucket sunk in the ground to help control the spread. However the trumpet creeper also produces copious amounts of papery seeds contained in long pods. Dead-head your flowers to keep these from being produced.
If you're still determined to plant one of these, remember that they bloom best in full sun, but aren't picky about soil. They can withstand drought, but without adequate moisture the flower show will suffer. Prune often and drastically to keep this vine in check and note that it may take 3 or 4 years for it to bloom. Also remember that some people experience a rash similar to poison ivy if they handle the foliage, so take precautions to avoid contact if you are one of those folks. All things considered, there are much better choices for a hummingbird garden. Plant salvias, beebalm, or a buckeye tree. If you want a native vine with a similar appearance, plant its cousin, the crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) as a climber. The trumpet creeper is just one example of why you should research the plants you put in your garden. It can save headaches in the future.