8-14 February 2002


By definition, a vine is a "weak-stemmed plant that derives its support from climbing, twining, or creeping along a surface." In contrast, shrubs and trees are nicely adapted for standing out in a crowd, their woody stems allowing them to rise above surrounding vegetation, get closer to sunlight, and even shade out the competition. But pity the poor vine that lies prostrate on the ground--unless, of course, it's able to grow skyward by leaning on all those big, strong trees and shrubs around it.

Greenbrier, Smilax spp., tendrils

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

Here at Hilton Pond Center, vines demonstrate more than one way to "get high." Herbaceous ones such as Maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and Indian Strawberries (Duchesnea indica) don't live long enough to climb very far, Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, choking a treebut several of our woodier vines are perennials that snake up tree trunks all the way to the canopy. Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), a semi-woody import from Asia that has fragrant blossoms but a murderous disposition, demonstrates the easiest way to climb: grow skyward by just winding around the trunk of a tree or shrub. Unfortunately for its support network, honeysuckle twines so tightly that when the tree trunk grows and expands, the vine constricts flow of water and food and often chokes the life out of its host (right). If the tree dies and eventually falls, the killer honeysuckle also crashes back to earth--but not before it has produced jillions of shiny blue-black berries that are carried off by birds to make jillions more honeysuckle vines. We suspect that in Asia there are enough honeysuckle predators to keep this plant in check, but such is not the case in North America, and our woodlands suffer for it.

Native Piedmont vines are a bit more genteel in how they use trees and shrubs to scale the heights. Cross Vine, Anisostichus capreolata, tendrilsGreenbrier (Smilax spp., top photo), identifiable by its sharp, straight thorns and thin, green stems, produces tendrils that wind around tree twigs and other projections, holding the vine in place. Tendrils live a relatively short time before withering and losing their grip, but by then the Greenbrier is already higher in the tree and growing new tendrils. Similar structures are used by wild grapes such as Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia), and by Cross Vine (Anisostichus capreolata, above left). Interestingly, Greenbrier tendrils are modified leaves, while in grapes they are modified stems.

Orange-flowered Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans)--known at Hilton Pond Center as the "amazing hummingbird magnet vine"--Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans, adventitious rootsis in the same family (Bignoniaceae) as Cross Vine, but it doesn't grow thin, looping tendrils. Instead it sends out short, finger-like adventitious roots that dig into dead bark on a host tree and hold tightly while the vine grows. These aerial roots (right) apparently absorb no water or nutrients and do no damage to the host.

Another native vine, Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans), sometimes grows along the ground or as a low shrub, but when crawling up a vertical support it produces adventitious roots to the extreme. An old Poison Ivy vine is usually covered by so many hair-like aerial roots that the vine looks downright furry (below left). As in Trumpet Creeper, these holdfasts are non-damaging to the host tree, but they do contain urushiol, the toxic oil that causes dermatitis in many people. (HINT: Don't stroke the inviting fur of a Poison Ivy vine.)

Poison Ivy, Rhus radicans, adventitious rootsPerhaps our favorite viny tree-climbing is done by Virginia Creeper, which also happens to bear one of our favorite scientific names: Parthenocissus quinquefolia. This woody native plant produces thin, flexible vines that can grow along virtually any vertical surface. Like the wild grapes to which it is related, Virginia Creeper produces stem tendrils, but their branched tips form into flat disks that produce a sticky substance. Once the mucilage dries and anchors the disk, the tendril coils or contracts and pulls the vine closer to its support (below right). This grasping mechanism is so powerful that Virginia Creeper can adhere to tree trunks, cliff faces, brick chimneys, and even plate glass windows. It's no wonder that Virginia Creeper often grows just as tall as the tree that supports it, and that it thrives in hardwood forests where trees are allowed to mature.

Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, tendrils with sticky disksIn the tropics, vine species are far more numerous than in the temperate Carolina Piedmont, and tropical vines likely have diverse means of dragging themselves up from the shady forest floor. Nonetheless, the various mechanisms described above are easily observed almost anywhere in the U.S. and southern Canada and illustrate quite nicely that, at Hilton Pond Center and beyond, vines indeed have found more than one way to "get high."

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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8-14 February 2002

American Goldfinch--80
Chipping Sparrow--2
Northern Cardinal--1
Purple Finch--18
House Finch--10
Mourning Dove--1

(with original banding dates)
American Goldfinch (7)
01/23/99--After 5th year female
01/23/00--After 4th year male
01/28/00--After 4th year male
01/18/01--3rd year male
02/01/01--After 3rd year male
02/15/01--After 3rd year male
04/17/01--3rd year male
House Finch (1)
12/10/99--After 3rd year male
Purple Finch (1)
02/22/00--4th year male


6 species
112 individuals

14 species
499 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
40,218 individuals

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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15-18 February 2002

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and
Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project
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through the
(Reports accepted through 1 March.)

Rufous Hummingbird, juvenile maleClick on the logo above to go to the Web site for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Click on the photo at right for a description of Winter Hummingbird Research
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