Friday, November 23, 2012

The noxious cow itch vine

Species name: Campsis radicans

Common name: cow itch vine, trumpet vine

Location: Ontario

The trumpet vine is native to the southeastern United States, reaching as far north as Kentucky. Despite this, it is incredibly cold-hardy, and can survive winter temperatures as cold as -30 degrees Celsius. For a subtropical species, that feat in itself is incredible. What's even more incredible is that it actually does better when transported to "strongly temperate" areas (locations that have a clear summer that is very warm, and a clear winter that is very cold) like New England and southwestern Ontario. There, the vine becomes incredibly invasive and can be very destructive. In fact, "radical pruning" is recommended in order to control its growth; it can grow up to 30 meters in one growing season!

This plant is one of the many vines that produce structures called tendrils that act almost like support beams that help keep the plant upright and attached to its substrate, whatever that might be. The plant that made tendrils famous is the garden pea plant, which has tendrils that react so quickly to touch you can almost watch them grow without a time lapse camera! The cow itch vine takes this to a whole new level. It can actually use its tendrils almost like hole borers, and can penetrate into mortar between bricks, and can split apart perfectly healthy trees. Nevermind what it can do to hydro or telephone poles! Outside its native range it truly is a menace, and should be avoided at all costs (despite its incredible beauty). The one good thing about this plant is its flowers; the bright red colour and the trumpet-like shape attracts every species of hummingbird to have ever come in contact with it, so if you'd like some great hummingbird viewings on warm winter days, go find some other poor gardener that planted this vine and camp out in their yard with a camera. The flowers are so prolific in nectar that the birds are very likely to "put on a show" for you while you just sit and snap pictures!