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Missouri Environment & Garden


David Trinklein
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9631

Ornamental Vines Provide Beauty and Privacy

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

Published: May 13, 2020

Ornamental vining plants often are overlooked as a means of screening unpleasant views while at the same time adding beauty to the landscape. Especially in urban, densely-populated areas, they can provide privacy in outdoor settings where space is limited. Additionally, a fence, arbor, pergola or other structure can be made to blend into the landscape more attractively through the use of ornamental vines.

Vining plants climb in one of three different ways, and the type of support most suitable for a plant often depends on its method of climbing. One method by which vines climb is by twining. These plants wrap their stems around any available support as they ascend. Among the best- known climbers are trumpet honeysuckle, silver lace vine, bittersweet and wisteria. Annual vining plants such as morning glory and moonflower also climb this way. Kiwi, a tropical plant known for its edible fuzzy brown fruits, also is a twining vine.

Another group of vining plants climb by grasping a support with their tendrils, or closely related structures. Botanically, tendrils are modified stems, leaves, leaflets, leaf tips, or leaf stipules used by plants to encircle objects they touch and thus hold onto them. The main stems of these plants do not twist as they grow up a support. Sweet pea, porcelain berry and passion vine all climb by means of tendrils. Clematis also fits into this group. although it does not produce tendrils. Instead, it climbs by wrapping its petioles (leaf stalks) around a supporting structure.

red, orange cylindrical flowers on green vines

Trumpet Vine

The third group of vining plants climb by clinging to a structure with special aerial rootlets. Ornamental vines in this category include English ivy, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, trumpet vine (which also may twine) and climbing hydrangea. Some members of this group of vines (e.g. English ivy) produce aerial rootlets that end in adhesive "sucker discs." Structures made of wood, stone or brick are appropriate supports for them, any many vines in this category can cling to the trunks of trees.

There are a few "climbing" plants that actually do not climb. An excellent example of this group is climbing rose. It produces long, flexible canes without any natural mechanism to adhere to a structure. Therefore, plants in this group need assistance to climb and must be fastened to trellises, arbors or fences.

For quick cover on a privacy fence, fast-growing woody vines or those which are herbaceous annuals should be considered. Bittersweet and wisteria are examples of woody vines that climb quickly. They are not good choices for small spaces as they easily crowd out nearby plants. Bittersweet is a native vine that provides quick cover but is not evergreen. Plants of bittersweet are either male or female. Thus, if berries are wanted, several plants must be used to ensure that both male and female plants are present for the sake of pollination. Bittersweet is virtually pest-free. Its berries are attractive to birds who tend to spread the plant to other areas. Although aggressive, bittersweet, is not considered an invasive species by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

purple flowers on vines cliimbing on a trellis


Wisteria is a fast-growing vine that produces attractive flowers, but often requires five to seven years for new plants to begin flowering. Several species exist with Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) being the two most widely-grown. Of the two, Japanese wisteria is considered the most ornate, producing long racemes of fragrant flowers borne in spring. White, pink, violet, or blue flowered cultivars exist. 'Royal Purple' is a popular award-winning cultivar with deep purple, fragrant flowers. Hardy only to zone 5, the species is considered an invasive plant by certain southeastern states. Also, it is important to note that all parts of the plant, especially the seeds, contain a saponin glycoside called wisterin, which is toxic if ingested.

For showy flowers and dependable performance, clematis is a hard vine to beat. Commonly referred to as 'Queen of the Vines', extensive hybridization of this genus has led to the introduction of some outstanding cultivars. Its apetalous flowers come in colors of white, pink, red, lavender, blue and bi-colors. An informative article on growing clematis can be found at https://extension2.missouri.edu/news/clematis-queen-of-the-vines-climbs-in-popularity-3061.

blue flower

Morning Glory

Finally, morning glory is a good example of an annual vine that can cover a fence relatively quickly. In addition to the privacy provided by its dense foliage, morning glory blooms profusely adding color (and often fragrance) to the landscape. There are several species that deserve the attention of gardeners. Blue Morning Glory (Ipomoea indica) has won numerous awards andis highly regarded for its velvet-like leaves and light blue flowers that turn pink as they age. Other attractive morning glories include Heavenly Blue (Ipomoea tricolor), Grandpa Ott (Ipomoea nil) and Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea quamoclit). The latter is especially attractive to hummingbirds as evidenced by the fact it also is widely called Hummingbird Vine.

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REVISED: May 13, 2020