Vines Growing on Trees – Good or Bad?

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Trumpet Vine

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A fellow blogger, Andrew – All Downhill From Here, posed a question about vines growing on trees.

English ivy and other evergreen vines can cause problems in trees, along with fast growing deciduous (lose their leaves in winter) vines like Kudzu. However, not all vines do harm to trees.

Problem Vines:

  • English ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata )
  • Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
  • Chinese/Japanese wisteria (Wisteria spp.)
  • Kudzu (Pueraria spp.)
  • Euonymus  (spp.)

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These are just a few of the bad vines to allow to grow on trees. Evergreen and fast growing vines should be avoided or removed if possible. All vines can cause structural problems – The added weight can break branches along with the vine catching more wind, snow or ice than the tree is used to receiving, possibly causing it to topple. Some vines that start as a groundcover (such as ivy), form a dense mat covering the tree’s buttress or root flare. The vine often causes leaves and debris to pile up against the root collar and traps moisture against the trunk and root flare. This can cause many fungal and bacterial type diseases, as well as potential structural decay at the base of the tree. Deciduous vines aren’t necessarily any better than their evergreen counterparts. They, too have the capability of shading out the tree’s leaves, adding weight and even girdling (strangling) the tree’s limbs and trunk. Some common vines in this category; Chinese/Japanese wisteria, trumpet vine and pipevine. Trumpet vine and pipevine are native to the Midwest and usually confine their growth to trees at the edge of woods or those that are standing alone. Therefore, they don’t represent a threat to the forest overall, but they can take their toll on individual trees. It comes to personal preference if you want to go down this road.

Leave Them Be Vines:

Vines that are smaller and grow more slowly that can usually be allowed to grow on trees.

  • Clematis species
  • Virgin’s bower (native clematis – Clematis virginiana)
  • Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quincifolia)
  • Carolina moonseed (Cocculus carolinus)
  • Maypop / Purple Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Although Virginia creeper and crossvine can grow quickly and get large, I’ve never seen any tree so overgrown with them as to pose a problem even though crossvine can be evergreen. The clematis vines (including the native), Carolina moonseed and maypop climb by twining, however do not strangle the tree. Crossvine, Virginia creeper and poison ivy climb by using their aerial roots. People often confuse Virginia creeper and poison ivy. Just remember this little ditty:

“Leaves of three, leave it be. Leaves of five, leave it alive (or let it thrive).”

And before anyone jumps down my throat about the poison ivy, I would like to remind everyone that the Audubon Society considers poison ivy to be one of the top food sources for song birds, with about 63 species feeding on the berries. It’s so important, that nature has essential plant foods for birds. However, I digress. … Should you decide to let a smaller, slower-growing vine grow up a living tree, be prepared to manage the vine by cutting it back to keep it confined to the trunk and not allow it to grow on the limbs which could add weight and change the tree’s center of gravity as well as shade the tree’s leaves. Make sure that fallen leaves and other plant debris don’t collect at the bottom of the vine against the host tree or diseases may follow. Should a tree that is hosting a vine show signs of stress, the vine will have to go for the health of the tree. One last thought. Dead trees that are left standing (snags) can be used for vines. Just remember that this arrangement will be temporary, as the snag will eventually decay to the point of falling. Just make sure it won’t hit anything when it comes down.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

65 thoughts on “Vines Growing on Trees – Good or Bad?

  1. How about Mistletoe? My oak trees have enough to get the whole world smooching. Doesn’t seem to bother the trees so much.

    Please tell whoever it is who gets all excited about PI being such good food for birds, that (I am not being facetious here, it’s Ecology 101) it’s a symbiotic relationship started by the poison ivy. It produces berries that actually consist of more seed than digestible food. The bird digests what it can, then becomes Johnny PI seed and poops the seeds out all over the place. And since PI likes light and water but will make do with shade, and in the absence of those, will grow sneakily in meadows, there is no shortage of new sources of bright red berries for the birdies. As we know, birds are remarkable at finding alternative food sources….

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    • I know how much you love this stuff, Laura 😉 I’m not a fan, per se, I don’t go planting it! However, I have been lucky to have not experienced PI, I have experienced poison sumac tho, almost the same reaction.
      PI really just makes me more observant to the flora around me. I kinda know if I’m in PI territory and am sure to look for it.
      You can blame the birds for depositing the seeds but man is more responsible for the expansion of the poison ivy plant. It is more common now than when Europeans first arrived in North America. I believe that development of real estate, adjacent to undeveloped land has produced “edge effects,” enabling poison ivy to establish vast, lush colonies. In essence, I think poison ivy is Mother Nature’s way of telling humans to BACK OFF!! Leave some of this planet for the animals.
      Deer, black bears, muskrats and rabbits eat the fruit, stems and leaves. For these animals, poison ivy’s eye-catching early-fall color will act as a food marker rather than a poison warning
      Vines growing along the ground provide thick protective cover for small mammals. Well-labeled plantings of poison ivy may help to protect natural habitats that are sensitive to human traffic, such as breeding areas of ground-nesting birds.
      Some insects even call poison ivy home. Dimorphic Macalla moth larvae (Epipaschia superatalis) spin a silken haven on poison ivy leaves for protection during metamorphosis, hence its nickname: the “poison ivy caterpillar.”
      I don’t disagree that there are many native plants that can feed the birds, but again, humans keep intruding on the natural areas of this planet and killing these food sources. No one has any fear of destroying a winterberry or an ilex plant, however, put the fear of a nasty rash in the mix and all bets are off!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, Ilex, thanks for that eloquent reply. My dad was able to pull PI by the roots and maybe get a couple of little bumps between his fingers, maybe not. I personally think a big part of the recent “bloom” of the PI (boy, you ought to like that, “bloom,” huh.) has a lot to do with acid rain, and the consequent acidification of the soil. This past year I grew some crops that were so ridiculously pH sensitive that I felt like I was growing a baby or something. Anyway, living in the shadow of Mt. Mitchell, whose conifers have been literally decimated by acid rain, I can’t help but look around at the changes in the local plant species (and the disappearance of newts and toads). I had to really hunt last fall to find any true galax, which used to be so abundant in these mountains. True, there have been hordes of Hmong people gathering galax for wreaths, but not on these paths on my private property, well hidden and guarded. My galax just disappeared. Wild asparagus disappeared. Other land and aquatic species. So acid rain. Humans.

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        • Your Dad had a rate trait to not be effected by it. My bro & I blistered up pretty bad from the poison sumac bush my grandfather had right near the door of his ‘mancabin’. He was unaffected also. Grandma made him cut it down after our little experience.
          I don’t doubt acid rain helps screw the forest over, big time! Oh so sad about MIA asparagus and other forest treats. I’ve got my own personal stash of asparagus. . Only a few more months. .. mouth watering already!
          In the end, my theory about natural things getting screwed up in this world is one word. HUMANS. We need to get smart quick or there won’t be a planet for long.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. 🙂
    I have a Neighbour’s Virginia creeper (I think) growing into one of my trees. I intend to hack it to pieces (on my side of the fence) when they are out of course!! 😉

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  3. Great post. I was wondering what you thought of trumpet vine. There is a magnificent one growing up an oak on our Main St. The hummingbirds love it~ don’t know how the oak feels about it. They look about evenly matched.

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    • When I bought my house in Florida, it was Autumn and the leaves had fallen. I noticed the tree in the front had magnificent, orange flowers! Loved it! Later I learned it WAS a trumpet vine on my oak and didn’t feel it was hurting the tree at all. I was even 10 blocks from the ocean and hurricane winds didn’t bother it either. I have the same situation now in the Midwest, and yes, I sure do get many hummers! I was trying to write this from a non-biased opinion, even tho I did what you weren’t supposed to and I’m a professional… =-O

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  4. Great post and I agree.The vine depends on the situation and the tree and how rapidly the vine. grows. I have to cut back Virginia creep in a Live Oak about ever two years.It chokes out too much vegetation. The passion vine that I grow is a hybrid of the native passiflora incarnata and is not a rampant grower. I wish that it were. But the gulf frittilaries really enjoy it as a host plant. I wish I could get the completely native one but the nursery here only grwos the hybrid of the maypops.

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    • As my Mom would say, everything in moderation. If something is working for you, perfect.
      Maybe you could get some native seed of your maypop and give that a shot. Although they grow here, no one sells it here either. There are many plants my local nurseries don’t sell and I’m a plant buyer, I can usually find anything. Many times is not because it doesn’t grow in the area, it’s because it’s not profitable. Always follow the money, you’ll usually find the answer. Well, or lack of money in this case.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice post. I’ve always like vines, they add character to the things they grow on and they have even more of an “alive” sense to them. That said I am aware that vines can kill trees. I’ve seen trees toppled due to the vines that basically pulled them down. In fact I’m wondering what those vines are, they’re quite large. I think they’re actually wild grape vines and I’ve seen them taking over parts of a 40 acre piece of property. It’s a very cool site but not as much when you think of the damage they’re doing. Let me tell you I got a work out taking my machete to several of them, and I had a little fun playing elementary Tarzan! 😉 I’ll share a pic in the future just for you.

    PI is no friend of mine, though my experience with the rashes have been minimal my little brother has had some serious experiences with it. My BF makes fun of me because I’m always pointing PI out without trying, hey that’s just smart in my opinion. And PI is a beast to get rid of. You’re right that developed area give it the chance to get an even stronger hold on the environment after we clear a bunch of stuff out. I know too about the other invasive ivys, they can take over a whole yard.

    What I wasn’t so aware of is the damage they can cause at the base of the tree. Great point, thanks for giving us something else to look forward to. And you know I might also add that when looking at vines on trees for me it helps to know that PI has those hairlike attachments growing off the main trunk (?) whereas Virginia Creeper has little suction cup like appendages. I remember learning that PI can give you a rash in any season, so beware.

    Thanks for sharing….gosh I’m long-winded… :blushing:…

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    • I’m with the moderation vote. I would never want the English or Boston ivys or and PI in my yard, but I did put the trumpet vine on the cherry. So far no effects and cherries don’t usually get as big as mine. Of course the septic tank outlets are surely to blame!
      I can spot PI like that also. My husband is even getting good at it. I think humans are getting a bit lazy in many departments. There are dangerous thinks everywhere. In the city you have muggers and rapists, in the woods you have PI. People just need to be more observant.
      Yes, vines have many different attachment methods. Actually most are pretty harmless on a tree, unless it’s a spinner. On the other hand, many are not good for a house. I’ve got a wisteria that I’ve created a wire for it to grow on to give the illusion its growing on my wall. It doesn’t have attachments, it spins on the wire.
      I’ve heard some nasty stories of folks who burned PI. The oils do not evaporate, but hold on to the smoke. You breath that in and bam! PI in the throat and lungs. Hell-o hospital. 🏨

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      • I’m with you. As much as I love modern technology I don’t think it’d hurt us to still have some “primitive” knowledge to fall back on.

        I’ve read some horror stories about people mowing and burning PI, the latter resulting in a collapse lung. I become squimish pushing my mower over it when I see it. It’s certainly not something to be messed with. Did you know as well that Mango, Avocado, and Cashew are also members of the same family as PI, Toxicodendrons? (A fact that hasn’t – unlike so many others – escaped me.) Once I chewed on a Mango pit (for the fruit I couldn’t cut off) and wound up getting small rashes around my mouth. A grad student instructor told me once that raw cashew (as in straight off the fruit) is actually toxic. Crazy eh? How’d he know? Well ate one while in Peru, yup got a rash all over too.

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        • I did know about the cashew, my uncle grew them! As a child, I would visit him and see them. They grow off of a fruit we’d make juice from. Yummy. Haven’t had that in 30 years…
          I get a fever blister rash in August, from all the tomatoes I eat, trying to keep up with the harvest! I’ll suffer, as I loooove fresh tomatoes. This is why is good to know the edible test. I treated myself for cold sores to no avail. Stop eating tomatoes for a few days, blisters gone.

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  6. I hope I don’t sound patronising, but that was one of the most simple, explicit and well explained articles on any plant related subject I have read for a long time. I always thought you weren’t just a handful of pretty finger-nails.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. For six years I’ve been trying to cover a small hillside with English ivy and myrtle, with mixed success.This year Virginia creeper showed up, and I like it. Will it coexist with the English ivy and myrtle to create an attractive ground cover, or will it just kill the English ivy and myrtle?

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    • Virginia Creeper is a pretty hardy plant, however out of your trio on the hill, the English ivy is what will (should in theory) overtake the other two. Mostly because its evergreen and can cover the others. VC does grow fairly fast, in the fall, you can see the wonderful red fall color to see how is doing compared to the others. I don’t know where you are, however VC grows everywhere around here. If you like it, find some on a public right of way (not a forest preserve) and take some seeds or small plants. Many people consider it a weed and would be happy to be rid of it. I personally love it!
      Thanks for stopping by! 😀

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  8. I wish I’d seen your blog before I allowed the English Ivy to crawl up the chimney. How we enjoyed our ivy-covered brick until the ivy reached our cedar-shake roof, the termites moved in, and we had to replace the roof. Thanks for the like.

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  9. I must add here that I am more allergic to Virginia Creeper than I am to Poison Ivy. Just having the oil touch my skin causes red spots that quickly turn to blisters. If I accidentally scratch, it spreads quickly. I have my husband eradicate it as much as possible. With me waaaay away. 😜

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have a huge near 100 yr old Choke Cherry tree that has well established trumpet vines growing up it. The vines cover parts of the huge trunks about 2/3rds of the tree and look great during blossom season. The trunks of the tree are huge and stately so the trumpet vine isn’t putting any dent in the tree’s livelihood. Actually, it looks much better than the old wooden trunk branches and adds beauty covering up the old bark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! That sure must look awesome in bloom! Those choke cherry trees are great trees to begin with.. lots of food for animals. But then yours gets a second bloom with the trumpets. 😊
      I clearly did the same “bad” thing to my black cherry, but it looks awesome. I just wanted to explain to anyone thinking of doing it that there may be ramifications to allowing it.
      Thank you for commenting!

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  11. I planted a cherry tree when we bought our new house in 1986. Bumper crop this year, the youngest of my 7 grandchildren are experiencing spitting seed contests for the first time. Problem is neighbors vines have taken over and it looks like half my tree is already dead. Very long thin vines that grow so fast it appears to grow two feet overnight. How do I save my beloved tree?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch! 😣
      How big is your tree?
      Are you able to sever the vines from the tree? At least do that, then if you can, remove the vines. You may need to wait until winter, when there’s no leaves to get in the way and if you need to prune to get them out, you won’t leave the tree vulnerable to disease that can get into cuts.
      The leaves may (may) grow back after the vine is removed. The tree just may have not produced leaves where the vine was to save energy.
      If you need more input, you can email me photos or give me more info.
      I wish you the best! Nothing like having a pit spitting good time! 😉

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  12. Just found a parasitic passionfruit vine that has enormously thick, penetrating girth rooted and intertwined, violating one of my poor hapless citrus trees. I love passionfruits and didn’t realize what was going on. The lemon tree had been listless of late. That unwelcome intruder will get sawn off brutally and throughly posthaste! (Will take pics.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Vines! | Trey Shupp – The Ozark's Geology and Geomorphology

    • Although the tomato wouldn’t hurt the tree, it would be too shady for the tomato. The tomato would also need a ton of nutrients from the soil that the tree won’t be willing to give up. So, a short answer, would be no. 😉

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  14. Pingback: Climbing Vines are Tree Killers | The Tree Care Guide

  15. I’m not a good enough gardener to have an opinion on this (and if I did, it wouldn’t be worth taking seriously), but I have been told by serious gardeners in Britain that ivy doesn’t do trees any harm. Maybe the ivy or the trees grow differently on different continents–I have no idea. I just thought I’d pass that on., for whatever it’s worth.

    On the other hand, when we lived in Minneapolis a neighbor gave us a trumpet vine cutting. It wasn’t close enough to any trees to harm them, but for a while there I did think it was going to eat the house. It was beautiful, but we decided it had to go, and it took years to get rid of the thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Opinions are like butts… everyone has one. 😉
      I would never discount a person without schooling that has just experienced something for a long time.
      However….
      I have a college degree and arborist licence that took a lot of studying to attain. The information I get from colleges and the ISA (International Society of Arborists).
      Ivy can become very dense and heavy for a tree. It doesn’t drill into the bark, however can create an environment that can host pests, moisture ( which can cause fungal and rotting ) along with shading of the tree leaves.

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