Native Vines for Wildlife

There's a reason a vine is the centerpiece in the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk. Real vines don’t take you to a giant’s castle, but their speedy growth offers almost instant gratification, as well as many other benefits.

They have showy blooms, colorful fruits, and interesting leaves, bark, and seed pods. You can train them on a trellis, arbor, fence, or the side of a house, or even use them as a ground cover. Most are disease-resistant and easily survive in a variety of landscape conditions.

If you pick the right vine, you’ll also put out the welcome mat for a range of wildlife. Vines’ sprawling growth offers excellent shelter and nesting places. Many also provide nectar or berries that attract songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and small mammals. The following native vines will impress you with their hardiness, beauty, and fast growth, and will draw wildlife of all sorts to your yard.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens, Zones 4 to 9)


The coral-colored flowers of this vine attract hummingbirds, and its red-orange berries are food for migratory songbirds and small mammals such as chipmunks, opossums, raccoons, and squirrels. In addition to the showy flowers, it has attractive papery, orange-brown bark.

Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla, Zones 5 to 8)


This vine has ginger-scented, chocolate-brown flowers that look like pipes and provide unique visual interest. It is a host plant for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata, Zones 6 to 9)


This evergreen vine (above) provides year-round shelter for wildlife. Hummingbirds find nectar in its red-orange tubular flowers, and small mammals feed on the seeds found in its leathery capsules.

Trumpet creeper or trumpet vine (Campsis radicans, Zones 5 to 9)


Few plants are better at attracting hummingbirds than trumpet creeper (above). This is a large, aggressive vine, so plant it where it has room to grow, and prune it annually.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, Zones 5 to 9)


The purple flowers of this herbaceous perennial vine (top) are showy and exotic. Songbirds feed on the orange-yellow fruits, and it’s a host plant of several species of butterflies, including Gulf fritillaries, zebra longwings, and Julias.

Wild vines


You won’t find some of the best wildlife vines at the garden center, but if you have these already on your property and can safely let them grow, go ahead and leave them. Thorny catbriars (Smilax spp.), aggressive Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and twining wild grapes (Vitis spp.) all happen to be excellent wildlife plants. Let part of your garden go wild for these vines and you won’t be disappointed.

David Mizejewski is a naturalist, television personality, and author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife (Creative Homeowner, 2004).


AGGRESSIVE VINES: GOOD OR BAD?


Native vines often have a bad reputation for being invasive, but by ecological definition it’s impossible for a plant to invade an ecosystem to which it is native. It is true, however, that many native vines are aggressive growers. Using them successfully means planting them in the proper location and pruning them annually to keep their sprawling growth in check. They do tolerate heavy pruning.

Vines that are true ecological invaders are exotics, including kudzu, Chinese and Japanese wisteria, English ivy, Asian bittersweet, porcelainberry, and mile-a-minute vine. Avoid these, and if you have them already, remove them.