February 2014 ● Planting Roots in Mexico

By Tommy Clarkson • February 2014

Beautiful blooms but… at the bottom left can be seen a couple of Croton leaves quaking before the pending, overwhelming, onslaught of the Flame Vine from above.

Beautiful blooms but… at the bottom left can be seen a couple of Croton leaves quaking before the pending, overwhelming, onslaught of the Flame Vine from above.

Flame Vine (Pyrostegia venusta) – Family: Bignoniaceae (Also known as Orange Trumpet Vine, Orange Trumpet Creeper, Flaming Trumpet Vine, Firecracker Vine, Golden Shower, Llamarada, or Huapala and, incorrectly by some, Honeysuckle, Orange Flowered Stephanotis or Mexican Flame Vine)

Commonly now grown in tropical and subtropical areas, as well as in mild Mediterranean climates, Pyrostegia venusta is a vigorous liana (a long-stemmed, woody vine, rooted in the soil at ground level, which uses an array of means for vertical support) that makes a beautiful ornamental plant with cascades of orange flowers.

In fact, a while back, on the Orlando Sentinel’s web site, I saw the Flame Vine described as an “evergreen, woody, rampant, vine.” It is that … with major league emphasis on “rampant!” Originally from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, this sun-loving, fast grower – up to over thirty feet (over nine meters) in length – is a climber, a hanger and a creeper! (Patty says it sounds somewhat similar to an old boyfriend from her youth!)

Like the Axis Powers at their zenith in the 30’s, these guys strive to take over everything around them! They are, suffice it to say, aggressive and can smother the more benign – so, beware trees, shrubs, and bushes. Mine reach out onto my Date Palms, Crotons and Silk Floss Tree and, regularly, have to be aggressively “encouraged” to not be such expansionists!

Nervously peering over its "shoulder" fronds, a Bottle Palm on our Boulder Terrace sees the rapidly encroaching Flame Vine fast growing ever nearer from the Grand Terrace above.

Nervously peering over its “shoulder” fronds, a Bottle Palm on our Boulder Terrace sees the rapidly encroaching Flame Vine fast growing ever nearer from the Grand Terrace above.

The genus name refers to the color of the flowers – pyro (flame) and stege (covering) while venusta means “pleasing”. Another of my secondary research sources asserts that the species name translates as “handsome.” What with its profusion of bright, brilliant and bunched flowers, I would, most assuredly, agree with all of these!

In full bloom, with its medium to dark green leaves and bold, abundantly lush, dense, terminal clusters of two to eight, two to four-inch (five to ten centimeters) long, slender, orange (occasionally yellow), tubular flowers cascading down, it is simply brilliant. Climbing via thread-like tendrils, its shiny, pinnately-compound leaves (somewhat like a feather with parts branching from a central stem) are comprised of two or three leaflets. These ovate leaflets are two to three inches (five to seven and a half centimeters) long with one of them, sometimes, being modified into a terminal tendril.

But, at the risk of repeating my earlier warning, when growing the Flame Vine, keep in mind that – in but a short time – it can well cover walls, trellises, arbors, car ports, rooftops, overhead lines …and slow moving gardeners!

In his tremendous tome, “The Tropical Look, An Encyclopedia of Dramatic Landscape Plants” (available through our web site via Amazon), Robert Lee Riffle – in my opinion, the quintessential “Plant Person” – said of them, “When it does bloom, there is probably no other flowering vine that is more spectacular, especially if one likes the color of deep orange.” I know of few who would not but fully concur.

This one grows on a wall on the highway leading into PV from Manzanillo. Gorgeous, isn’t it?!

This one grows on a wall on the highway leading into PV from Manzanillo. Gorgeous, isn’t it?!

It can handle a wide range of well-draining soils and likes moderate, regular waterings. You may wish to prune them following their flowering. It can be propagated by cuttings or air layering.

But while loving copious, direct sun light, it prefers slightly cooler areas and, if it had its “druthers”, would choose slightly higher altitudes. Hence, around here, it may cease flowering during the hottest times of the year. (By the way, some folks also confuse this vine with the South African Tecomaria capensis whose flowers are more funnel shaped and two-lipped, while sporting five to nine leaflets with toothed margins.)

These copious, trumpet bloomed vines are salt tolerant and suitable for planting along the coast. And as an aside, it has another climbing cousin – Bignonia magnifica – that boasts large purple or mauve-pink flowers and can be pruned into a bush. Yearly maintenance to remove dead wood is a good idea – after cessation of blooming. I’ve read that scales, caterpillars, and mites can be a problem for the Flame Vine but I have, to date, not experienced such.

Pyrostegia venusta

Pyrostegia venusta

And, closing with a bit of “upper crust” class, according to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens site, “The plant from which the painting of P. venusta in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine was illustrated was collected in Brazil in 1815 by Admiral Sir John Beresford (Second Sea Lord and Conservative politician). It was brought to the editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine by William Smith, who looked after Lord Liverpool’s garden at Combe Wood in Surrey. Lord Liverpool became Prime Minister in 1812 after the assassination of Spencer Perceval.”

Tommy Clarkson

In Manzanillo, visit Ola Brisa Gardens, Tommy and Patty’s verdant, multi-terraced tropical paradise nestled on a hill overlooking the magnificent vista of Santiago Bay. Leisurely meander its curved, paved path, experiencing, first hand, a delicious array of palms, plants and flowers from all over the world. Or, e-mail questions to him at olabrisa@gmail.com  For back issues of “Roots”, gardening tips, tropical plant book reviews and videos of numerous, highly unique eco/adventure/nature tours, as well as memorable “Ultimate Experiences” such a Tropical Garden Brunches and Spa Services, please visit http://www.olabrisagardens.com

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