Trumpet Creeper: Desired Vine or Invasive Weed?

By Ann M Mason, Fairfax Master Gardener Intern
Trumpet CreeperSome say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For gardeners, there is a world of native plants that elicit mixed opinions. From the family Bignoniaceae, trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), alternatively called trumpet vine, cow-itch and devil’s shoestring, is one of those.

For some, this perennial woody vine is valued as an ornamental whose tubular red-orange flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies and whose stems provide a habitat for ants. For others, this aggressive bully is a nuisance weed whose stems can reach up to 12 meters (about 39 feet), twine around trees and shrubs and sprawl over flower beds if not controlled.

Trumpet creeper leaf

Leaf of Trumpet Creeper

The leaves of trumpet creeper are pinnately compound having an odd number of ovoid leaflets, with generally four to six pairs opposite each other with one leaflet on the terminal end, resulting in an approximately 30 cm (12 inch) long leaf of nine, 11, up to 15 leaflets. Each leaflet is between 2.5 to 7.6 cm (1 to 3 inches) long, 1.3 to 3.8 cm (½ to 1 ½ inches) wide and coarsely toothed.

In full sun, the trumpet creeper produces clusters of attractive 8 cm (about 3 inch) long red orange flowers at the end of branches. These clusters of four to a dozen flowers appear from July through August and always attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) in the area. In the fall, fruits appear as long, up to 8 to 13 cm (3 to 6 inches), narrow, flat or slightly roundish pods that contain many flat, winged seeds. In my shady garden under an ancient elm, I have never seen trumpet creeper bloom during the six years since first I spied it as a volunteer and started my battle with it.

Most of us see these vines growing and spilling over road sound barriers resplendent in their clusters of either red-orange flowers or their fruit — long brown pods. While this growth habit might be tolerated on sound barriers, such growth using the vine’s aerial rootlets will damage wood, stone or brick on our houses and related surfaces.