Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Hydrangea vine (Decumaria barbara)

January 17, 2023

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

Did you know that there is a near-native vine that resembles climbing hydrangea and Japanese hydrangea vine, which are both native to Asia? It is Decumaria barbara, commonly known as wild hydrangea vine or wood vamp and it’s native to the southeast, from Virginia to Florida and west to the Mississippi.

Wood vamp has attractive, glossy, dark green leaves, semi-evergreen in mild winters and blooms in May-June with clusters of small, fragrant, white flowers. Though useful as a ground cover, it only blooms when allowed to climb. A relatively small vine, growing only about 20 feet or so and more diminutive than its Asian cousins, wood vamp eagerly grows up tree trunks, but does not overwhelm canopies the way bittersweet, English ivy and even the more commonly sold climbing hydrangeas can.

Growing well on the north sides of buildings, it is a good choice to cover wood fences in shade. Decumaria thrives in a variety of soils and though it prefers moist and even wet conditions, will also grow easily in soils of average moisture.

We have two plants at Bridge Gardens. The older is growing on a venerable black oak near the parking lot and even though 4 years old, has yet to bloom. The other is a cutting of that plant. Though only 2 years old, it has reached the second floor of the north side of the Garden House. Fingers are crossed every year for a much-anticipated floral display.

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