Vines And Hanging Plants

Every variety of plant used in a design fits inside an imaginary line that defines the limits of the plant material pertinent to the kind of indoor and outdoor decorating where it will be used. Strictly speaking, vines are plants that cling to, or twine around, something that supports them as they grow upright. Their natural habit is vertical.

Turn the pot upside down, and the pliable stems will turn back and up toward overhead light. But there are hundreds of hanging or trailing plants – not true vines – that serve the same or similar decorative purposes because their long, arching stems either hang down or will grow upright when tied to a support. These are included because the picture would be incomplete without them.

An imaginary line gives a basis for excluding some borderline cases, like the orchids, bromeliads, and other plants that are effective in hanging baskets but do not have “viny” habits. It also excludes any creeping or trailing plants useful only as ground covers, but includes any that serve at least one additional decorative purpose.

It is fascinating to discover the ingenious appendages or characteristics nature gives plants to help them climb, cling, creep, or dangle. It is also important to distinguish between the different climbing and hanging habits, because they often determine the decorative use of the plant or the support that should be provided for it. All the plants described fit into one or more of the following categories.

Vines that climb by twining their stems usually require a thin support, like wire or cord, to twine around. They also have definite ideas about which way they will twine. The familiar bittersweet is one of many that insist on twining from left to right, or counterclockwise; Hall’s honeysuckle twines from right to left, clockwise; and neither will change its habit, no matter what you do.

Vines that climb by twining tendrils (leaflike appendages, or modified leaves or flower stalks) are not usually so particular about which way they go so long as it is up. The tendrils of the passionflower vine form tight, wiry coils like bedsprings; some tendrils branch (the cissus tribe); some have blunt ends that curl into a hook; some are hooked and needle-sharp, like the doxantha.

Vines that climb by clinging with tendril discs actually combine two climbing tools – tendrils, and small adhesive discs at the tips. For example, when the center branch of the forked tendril of the Virginia creeper touches a surface, it gets busy twisting, turning, maneuvering to bring the other branches into contact too. Then the tip of each tendril develops a disc and seeps out an adhesive resin to hold it tight to its flat support.

Vines that climb by twining leaf-stems (sometimes flower-stems), like clematis, elongate the stems and curl them around a thin support.

Vines that climb by a modification of the leaf itself are fewer, but intriguing. The tapering tip of the gloriosa lily leaf, for example, looks much like a coiling tendril as it circles its support.

Vines that climb by clinging with rootlets from the stem, or sinking them into some porous surface, need no other support to help them climb a stone or brick wall. The ivies are of this type. Indoors, the climbing philodendrons attach themselves to bark or a moss pole in the same manner.

Hanging plants with long, lax, or arching stems make magnificent basket specimens if they are in proper scale. The variegated flowering maple is a fine example. For larger containers or for tying or training upright, vine-wise, in the garden or landscape, there are many semishrubs like jasmines and climbing roses. The latter, of course, help themselves along somewhat with thorns.

Plants that produce, runners – long, lax, stemlike extensions with new plants appearing at the ends – will hang gracefully from pots or baskets. The runners usually strike roots and establish themselves wherever they touch soil. Examples are the episcias and saxifragas.

Prostrate plants with creeping or trailing stems include a number of outdoor ground covers like pothos plants that root at intervals as they move over the soil, and some indoor gems like selaginellas and pileas.

Vining and other plants are classified as annuals, which flower the first season from seed; biennials, which flower the second season after sowing seed; and perennials, which live on from year to year. Perennials that will flower the first year from seed are often grown as annuals.

Perennials may be herbaceous, dying back to the ground in winter, or woody, with top growth persisting and growing on the following year. And woody perennials may be deciduous and drop their leaves in winter, or evergreen. The evergreens are further divided into types with needle like leaves (conifers) or broad-leaved.

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