Trumpet Creeper Cheats a Bit

12 Aug

Campsis radicans (Campsis means curved, perhaps the stamens.  Radicans means rooty.)


John and I today continued exploring of the Kiplinger Natural Area in Stuart, visited by a curious Limpkin.

Campsis limpkin - Copy

It must be August, with the Goldenrod evoking the summer meadows of childhood.   Among the botanical treats in bloom now is the colorful Trumpet Creeper vine, so showy and “exotic” for a native species.  Those orange trumpets look like something out of a TV special on the Amazon.  Trumpet-Creeper is in the same family as many garden selections, such as African-Tuliptree,  Tabebuias, and Garlic-Vines.

Campsis radicans 4 cluster - Copy

TC by JB

We’re near the southern end of its range which covers most of the eastern U.S., as well as westward and north into Canada perhaps due to human activity.   There are only two Campsis species on Earth,  one in Kiplinger, the other limited to eastern Asia and almost identical to ours.   That’s all there is, there ain’t no more.    Such eastern-North America/eastern-Asia sister-species splits are well known in biology, exemplified  most dramatically by another pair:  American Alligators and Chinese Alligators.

Gardeners please note:  the vine is aggressive, high-climbing, toxic, and irritating to the skin.

Campsis radicans 7 cardinal - Copy - Copy

By John Bradford

Trumpet Creeper is uncommon in South Florida outside of cultivation, and the reason may be our shortage of hummingbirds, the main pollinators.   Extra visitors include bees and butterflies, but studies have shown a threshold of about 400 pollen grains to cause fruit formation, and pollen from the same plant does not work.    In short, a job for a big hungry hummingbird, not a little lightweight bee or butterfly.

Although tough to pollinate, Trumpet Creeper is easy to propagate.  At Palm Beach State College, we grow it from segments of roots.  Thus in nature the vine can probably establish wherever root pieces go, a useful trick in, say, a floodplain where the ground can break apart and float away.

Campsis radicans 6 butterfly - Copy

Hey, I can’t reach the nectar!  (JB)

The stems are odd in structure.    Resembling Poison Ivy, they climb a host tree using tiny clinging roots like centipede feet.    Trumpet Creeper is a structural parasite, reaching great heights freed of the need to make strong supportive wood.     Many readers know that normal woody plants have a green cambium just under the bark to expand the girth of the stem by making strong new wood to the inside as well as new bark to the outside.    Trumpet Creeper, by contrast, makes extra sugar-conducting tissue at the inner core of the stem where there would be wood in a self-supporting species.    In other words, stealing outside support allows the selfish vine to concentrate on fueling rapid growth rather than holding itself up.   (Know anybody like that?)

Campsis radicans 1 close - Copy


The flowers make enough nectar to feed a bird.   Everybody likes nectar.   Those blossoms are to nectar thieves what a bank is to bandits.  Banks need tough guards.  Trumpet Creeper has armed guards too.   To pay its sentries the flowers have nectaries on the outside at the base (on the calyx).  They look like blisters, and feed belligerent ants who presumably protect the nectar-laden floral base from any varmint that may nip a hole and swipe the sweets.

Campsis glands glands - Copy

Little ant-feeder blister glands on the outside of the flower base


Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Uncategorized



15 responses to “Trumpet Creeper Cheats a Bit

  1. Donald Filipiak Sr

    August 12, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    One of my favorites. Don’t see this very often in our PBC natural areas.

    • George Rogers

      August 12, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      You don’t—no hummingbirds? Even this one could possibly be of garden origin…but it is in a wild place looking natural

  2. Barbara Peterson

    August 13, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Thought this was interesting.

    Barbara Vieux Peterson Sent from my iPad


  3. Gregory Overcashier

    August 13, 2016 at 7:49 am

    Wonderful article George. Occasionally I will find the flowers on the ground and wonder where they came from. I know up in Melbourne they have some year round hummingbirds.

    • George Rogers

      August 13, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Thanks Greg, Amazing how high in trees, overstory, and telephone poles that vine can rise. Seems to like to make flowers way up there. John took the blog photos of high elevation flowers with a large telephoto lens. Just guessing, but more hummingbirds as you N in Florida?

  4. theshrubqueen

    August 13, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Didn’t realize Trumpet Creeper is native. I think I have seen two hummingbirds in my garden (on the Firebush) in the past five years. I think there is some Trumpet Creeper at Hawk’s Bluff.

    • George Rogers

      August 13, 2016 at 10:17 am

      Hawks Bluff seems like a good place for it. Will make a point when there of watching for it. You ever see that big edible passionflower vine there?

      • theshrubqueen

        August 13, 2016 at 10:21 am

        I don’t know, how do you identify it?

        It is a jungle unto itself on hte left as you climb up to the hilltop parking place. Big blue flowers, and yellow fruit like a giant egg.

  5. Laure Hristov

    August 13, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Glad you made the note to Gardeners. We never sell it for that reason. Pretty to look at in natural ares but too much trouble in the garden!

  6. Janis Riley

    August 13, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Cool. Interesting and humorous and informative ♡

    • George Rogers

      August 14, 2016 at 5:05 pm


    • George Rogers

      August 16, 2016 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks Ron

  7. Sally Hart Brodie

    August 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    I had just exited off of Route I-66 in Falls Church Virginia today and crossed a small bridge and low and behold, I swear there was trumpet creeper crawling over the side rail. Looked exactly like John’s pictures.

  8. Steve

    August 27, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Hmm, I get hummingbirds every year (I live in Miami). They tend to arrive in the Fall, and stay pretty much through April. One bird would assiduously visit my Bahama Strongback (Bourreria succulennta) each and every morning. In the summer, I get regular early evening visits on the same tree by Hummingbird moths. Bourreria are great species for wildlife, as they pretty much bloom and fruit year ’round.


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