Tubular shaped flowers abound in several plant families. One that is well-known in the landscaping world is Bignoniaceae, the trumpet creeper family. Its members include jacaranda and tabebuia trees, as well as some showy vines in two genera, Campsis and Distictis. Commonly called trumpet vine or trumpet creeper, these sturdy vines can perform some enviable tasks in the garden. Both genera comprise species of semi-woody vines that grow quickly to cover buildings, fences or whatever they are planted near.
In full flower just now, Distictis buccinatoria (sometimes called blood-red trumpet vine) is clothing walls, fences, and any other structure (freeway sound walls, for example) that they have surmounted in brilliant flowers. The buds are deeply red with an orange tinge, and when they open, their golden throats create a fiery display. Even the fading blossoms that take on a purplish red hue are handsome. Spent flowers fall to the ground, very often beneath the thick canopy of the vine itself to add to the natural mulch or on the patio where they are easily swept up and added to the compost pile. In mild climates, flowers can appear for many months, the vines taking a brief break only through the coldest part of the year. The foliage is sturdy and a medium green to provide the perfect backdrop to the brilliant flowers. If red isn’t your color, there are two close relatives that tone the red down to a royal purple tone with just as much impact.
Royal trumpet vine (Distictis ‘Rivers’ or sometimes, D. riversii) has all the vim and vigor of the red version but with trumpets that are a royal purple on the outer lips and the same golden yellow interior. For almost the same purple tones, and the addition of fragrant flowers, plant the vanilla trumpet vine (D. lactiflora). This species also has handsome greenery and large trumpet flowers, but with the charm of slightly vanilla-scented flowers. This vine may be at or near the top of the list for sites with full sun to partial shade in need of a vine that can cover heights to 20 to 30 feet and spread as wide.
While the above are Mexican imports, the eastern portion of the U.S. has a native trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans. This species is extremely vigorous and survives killing frosts in many places by re-sprouting from the roots. By the way, it is not a candidate for confined spaces; it can (and will) grow to 40 feet and spreads laterally as well as vertically by suckering from the roots. Its foliage comprises glossy green leaves divided into many serrate-edged leaflets. There is an Asian counterpart to our American vine. It is C. grandiflora, and while the vines are slightly less vigorous and more tender, the scarlet flowers are a bit bigger and more intense in color. Selections of both of the species have been made for paler flowers; from orange to peach to yellow. One last mention must be made of a hybrid between these two species, C. X tagliabuana. Horticulturists have created ‘Crimson Trumpet’ that is just that and ‘Madame Galen’ with flowers in a toned down salmon shade.
All of the trumpet vines are semi-woody and long-lived. They require training in their early days to climb and cover the desired space and then persistent attention to keep them in the designated area. Severe pruning can take place in the winter when vines are more or less dormant to reduce the height and depth of growth. During the summer months, pinching the errant tips will not be detrimental and the vine can be made to stay in bounds. Because they are vigorous, they are good candidates for fairly quick cover-up jobs. Then, because they are woody enough to survive many years, they will serve for permanent features where a large swath of cover and color is needed.
One last note: The nomenclature of these species has varied greatly over the years. Other names that still may be in circulation include: Bignonia chinensis (Campsis grandiflora), Bignonia radicans (Campsis radicans, Bignonia cherere, and Phaedranthus buccinatorius (Distictis buccinatoria), Distictis lactiflorus, and Distictis cinerea (Distictis laxiflora). No matter what they are called, these trumpet vines can bring the valuable addition of cover and color to the garden.