Monday, April 25, 2011

Dueling Vines

A wall of jasmine covers a large section of the clay wall
Simply Living

Two flowering vines are competing for my attention.  Japanese honeysuckle and Confederate jasmine are both blooming right now.  Cloying aromas fill the air.  In our yard, both plants grow next to each other on the clay wall, about 40 feet away from the wisteria, which stopped flowering just before the others began.  When I walk outside and take a whiff, it’s impossible to tell which fragrance is which. 

I’ve always liked vines.  In addition to their enticing scents, I find vines inspiring.  They offer so much potential.  Filled with strength and determination, these botanical climbers twine upward, stretching toward the sky.  Wispy tendrils wind around whatever material is handy in a steadfast quest for support and height.  Their movement is compelling.  Even when vines sprawl on the ground, they do so with abandon. 

“Mine!  Mine!”  They seem to exclaim, “The world is my banquet!” 

A vine’s hunger for real estate is insatiable.  If something nearby is climbable, the vine is right on it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a tree or trellis, wall or woodpile.  As long as there’s something to cling to, instincts kick in and a steady rise upward and outward begins.

Often, that rise is a vine’s undoing.    

An overly ambitious climber might warrant removal.  Several years ago, my son and I painstakingly tore out a solid wall of passionflower vine, which I had foolishly started from a single small plant.  I did the same with wild morning glory, another equally aggressive grower.

Both vines thrived along the clay wall.  They liked it so much they proceeded to sprawl across the wall and up the hill like out of control steamrollers.  However, instead of flattening every living thing in sight, the vines embraced them with smothering hugs.   

That’s the problem with some vines.  Their very nature gets them in trouble. 

I have an uneasy feeling that past mistakes are about to be repeated.  The problem isn’t with the honeysuckle or even the more aggressive jasmine vines.  It’s with the wisteria.  The wisteria took off this year as if injected with growth hormones.  Pumped up and on the run, it’s become the Barry Bonds of botanicals.

From my office, I look out at the clay wall.  To the right I see the wisteria, no longer blooming but lush with verdant foliage.  It fills about a 30-foot-long stretch.  To the left is a 20-foot expanse of Confederate jasmine, the white star-like flowers aromatic and full.  Both vines have managed to encompass large swaths of land while the less aggressive honeysuckle has stayed in small islands of resistance. 

“Don’t let us die!” honeysuckle vines seem to cry.  “Don’t let us be buried beneath botanical bullies.” 

It has happened before.  Neither Mexican flame vine, coral honeysuckle nor cypress vine could hold their own against more dominant climbers.  The phrase, “survival of the fittest,” usually refers to animals but it applies just as easily to plants.

My intention with the clay wall has always been to see it covered by a succession of flowers.  I envision a wall of color and different scents, one bloom and fragrance fading into another as months go by. 

Unfortunately, it hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.

Apparently, vines don’t coexist as harmoniously as I had hoped they would.  Each species is greedy for as much square footage as it can grab.  In that way, I suppose vines are like people.  They want their space and their neighbor’s space too.  Harmonious succession?  They could care less!  Cooperative interaction?  I don’t think so! 

That’s too bad because vines have so much potential.  Then again, so do people.

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