Native Vines



Autumn officially came this past week. Here’s a catbrier turning red on a fence in Stamford’s Scalzi Park to prove it.

When we think of native perennial vines that look great in autumn, native bittersweet (endangered) and woodbine (ubiquitous) tend to come to mind first. And then there’s the mixed blessing of poison ivy. But there are several other wonderful native vines that look great in fall, including catbrier, and climbing boneset, and groundnut.Catbriers, also known as greenbriers, are members of lily family. The most common of the North American species is the round-leafed Smilax rotundifolia, pictured above. Southern and Asian cousins include the sarsaparillas (or zarzaparrillas), well-known medicinal herbs. Catbriers have spines, small green flowers in spring, curling tendrils for climbing, and woody stems. The glossy leaves are semi-evergreen. Humans tend to consider catbriers a nuisance but the young shoots, leaves and tendrils are edible (prepare like asparagus). Birds find the black berries delicious and like the dense catbrier thickets for nesting. White tailed deer are reported to enjoy the leaves.

Climbing boneset, also known as climbing hempweed (miikania scandens), is a vine in the sunflower/aster/daisy family, is a relative of the famous and fabulous Joe Pye Weed and (non-climbing) boneset. Like catbrier, it can get out of hand when happy and it stands up to the invasive foreign competition (Indian bittersweet , English ivy, rosa multiflora and porcelain vine , for example). It’s found throughout North America in sunny, damp places; I find it climbing over the railing along Stamford’s Mill River walk, usually covered with pollen-loving insects. Here it’s mixed with another native vine, the large-leafed moonseed.

Ground nut (apois americana) (pea or legume family), a relative of the peanut from the eastern half of North America, was extensively used by Native Americans for food. The cooked tubers are reported to be high in starch and protein; the pea-type seedpods are also edible. It’s a good example of why we need to save all the weeds. For the past 200 or 300 years, it has been considered a bit of a nuisance and has been overlooked as a food crop. However, it’s now being re-investigated because it’s easy to grow and yields both roots and seed pods of high food value. The flowers are pretty too.

Here it is fighting for dominance on a guardrail along Stamford’s Mill River. Its other names include potato bean and Indian potato. Further reading at “Plants for a Future”

Garden calendar: Stop fertilizing t houseplants except tropicals in active growth. Outdoors, put in your ice pansies (see issue 33)