A Hummingbird Magnet – The Trumpet Vine

The Trumpet Vine ( Campsis radicans ) is a beautiful, useful, hardy native vine of the Southeastern United States. It receives its common name based on the many trumpet shaped orange flowers that it produces. Some of its other common names are also useful descriptors of the nature of this plant: Hummingbird Vine, Outhouse Vine and Cow-Itch.

This perennial vine’s use as a hummingbird attractant cannot be over emphasized. Hummingbird’s adore this plant and may return year after year to it. The Hilton Pond nature center had the following to say about this plant’s use in their hummingbird banding efforts: “it is absolutely an amazing attractant for hummingbirds. We maintain a monstrous monoculture of Trumpet Creeper that serves as centerpiece for our hummingbird trapping area”.

But I only quoted a portion of the sentence from the Hilton Pond website – the sentence continued with this warning: “but many folks shy away from this magnificent native plant because it grows so rapidly and, coincidentally, because it causes dermatitis in cattle (and some people)–hence the alternate name of “Cow Itch.” Indeed, this is a very rapid growing vine. It will take over any structure that it is planted near. Even Wikipedia warns that “ruthless pruning is recommended” with this vine.

But, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. Many people prize this plant because of its ability to cover unsightly walls or structures. This is how it became known as the “Outhouse Vine”. The Killer Plants website mentions that this plant was highly prized back in the day of outhouses for its ability to quickly and ornamentally (perhaps fragrantly, as well?) help conceal an outhouse.

At the end of its growing season, the Trumpet Vine produces several 6″ – 9″, bean shaped seed pods that are filled with small, winged seeds. Once the pods are completely dry (sometime during the winter), they will split open and spill their content of winged seeds. And how many seeds are in a pod? I didn’t know, so I decided to find out.

Using a razor blade, I carefully cut along the seam that joined the two halves of the pod together and pried the pod open. The first thing that I noticed was how neatly and elegantly the little winged seeds were packed into the pod. Each seed was lightly connected at a corner to each adjacent seed. And each row of seeds was packed atop another row of seeds- much like sliced bacon in a package. Someone should really study the “packaging” of the Trumpet Vine seeds. It is truly amazing at how neatly and orderly everything fits. One website had estimated around 400 seeds per pod. It was quickly apparent to me that there were more then 400 seeds in the pod. But how many?

I began to weigh the seeds on a digital kitchen scale that could measure as low as 1g of weight. I kept adding the seeds until the scale measured 1g. I counted those seeds- and it appeared that around 250 seeds weighed 1g. I then weighed the rest of the seeds, they weighed 5g. Therefore there was a total of 6g of seeds which gives an estimated count of around 1,500 seeds per pod! It is said that one would have to have a “brown thumb” to be unsuccessful at growing a Trumpet Vine. It is little wonder, therefore, that it can spread so quickly and become an invasive.

Loose seeds on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. How did that pile ever fit into one pod?