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Green Thoughts: Vines for the tropic garden

Many climbers are tough and resilient, but they are not natural vines inasmuch as they lack aids in the form of suckers, twining stems, modified leaves or tendrils to help them cling and ascend. They seek the sun­light, but because they are substantial and weighty, they crave support of some kind or another, a requirement that in­evitably takes up more of the gardener’s time.

Monday 11 March 2019, 03:00PM


Certainly they can be trained to flow over garden fences, pergolas, trellises and walls, but they do require human aid and direction. At the very least, the main stems will need to be tied to existing structures. Failing human in­tervention, they will tend to grow into an untidy bush.

Allamandas, solandras (chalice vines), thunbergias, Indian rubber vines and Rangoon creepers all come into this category. Even bougainvilleas, though these do cheat a bit by having vicious curved spines that enable them to get a grip on other plants, though not on smooth surfaces such as garden walls. All these vines happen to be personal favourites since they are spectacular bloomers and extremely tolerant of a range of conditions for growth.

Antigonum leptopus or coral vine

Among the genuinely low maintenance, self-sufficient climbers, perhaps the easiest of all is antigonum leptopus. That it has become invasive in parts of the southern states of America is a clear reflection of its durability. Bet­ter known as the coral vine or Mexican creeper, I have seen it thriving on ne­glected roadside sites.

It climbs rapidly with the aid of tendrils which can readily support the dense mass of bright green, heart-shaped leaves and attractive racemes of tiny, luminous pink florets. It makes an open, airy foliage cover.

Having the inestimable advantage of flowering almost all year long, the coral vine can grow quite tall – maybe five metres in favourable conditions. Though it normally spreads by forming under­ground tubers and substantial root stocks, it also produces masses of seeds which germinate readily. Antigonum will also take from hard wood cuttings.

If that is not enough, it is a popu­lar potted plant in garden centres. It is fussy only about adequate moisture for its roots. And even if it dies back in droughts, the vine may well return, phoenix-like, with the monsoon rains.

Ipomoea indica or morning glory

Another toughie is the ipomoea which belongs to the same family as the sweet potato and is popularly referred to as “morning glory”. Associated with the so-called “Flower Power” movement of the sixties, this huge convolvulaceae ge­nus contains some 400 species and, like the coral vine, its more vigorous mem­bers have become naturalised in some parts of the world.

A single morning glory flourished on my baking hot patio in Andalucia, producing 50 or more blooms every day. Without visible means of support, it still managed to cling to the stuccoed walls. This variety, known as indica, has dark green, heart-shaped leaves and trumpet-shaped flowers of an intensely deep gentian blue which turn to violet and finally pink as the sun bleaches the colour away.

A pink or pale mauve form (I.pulchella) sometimes grows wild in the tropics, as does the edible water morning glory (I.aquatica). Horsfalliae is a red version native to the Caribbean and Brazil, while I.cairica, sometimes called the railroad creeper, is found almost everywhere in the tropics. Ex­ceptionally vigorous, it sports showy white or lavender blooms.

I.Alba, known as the moon flower, is uncharacteristic in not being a sun-wor­shipper at all, saving its huge, white, round flowers for the arrival of twilight. Since the fragrant but fragile blooms then open quickly, it is possible to watch them dramatically unfold as dusk ap­proaches. Once touched by the morning sun, the flowers close and fade. Because of this characteristic, the moon vine is unsuited to a sunny tropical location. Give it a sheltered berth.

Another member of the clan is the cypress vine (quamoclit) which, with its needle-like leaves and brilliant tube-like, five-pointed scarlet flowers, is very different in appearance. Extremely har­dy, it has become naturalised in parts of Southeast Asia. It grows readily from seed, requires no fertiliser and can be cultivated in small containers.

All ipomoeas tend to possess hard seeds which can be soaked overnight in water before planting. It will take the resulting plants up to a year to pro­duce flowers. Most varieties can also be grown from cuttings or layering. Like quamoclit, they will take to life in a pot but will need to be given stakes or maybe a wire cylinder to climb.

Argyreia nervosa or elephant creeper or silver morning glory

The elephant creeper or argyreia ner­vosa is another convolvulus that will thrive in Thailand, even though – and perhaps oddly – it is infrequently cultivated. It is native to the Indian subcontinent. Also known as the silver morning glory or pak rabaat, it is the variety most associated with hallucino­genic properties and contains lysergic acid amide. Increasingly, its medicinal value (as an immune system booster) is being explored.

In aesthetic terms, argyreia is a handsome, vigorous climber with sen­sational large leaves which are silvery beneath and blue-green on top. The rose-pink, funnel-shaped flowers are huge and a contrasting white on the outside. These beautiful, furry flowers are often hidden among the lush foli­age.

The vine will need support, but grows vigorously and really looks the part, especially draped over a wall. Wa­ter during dry spells. Another excellent choice for your low-maintenance gar­den. And once installed, it is bound to become a talking point.


Patrick has been writing for thirteen years about gardening in Phuket and allied topics. If you have horticultural or environmental concerns, please con­tact him at drpaccampbell@gmail.com. Many of his earlier creative and academic publications can be found at Wordpress: Green Galoshes.

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