Invincible Vines for an Invincible Lady

Joyce with a few of her 250 milkweed plants!

Lately we've been involved with a project full of potential for the promotion of native gardens. But before I tell you more about the project, I have to tell you about the reason we're involved in the project. That reason would be an Aggressive Gardener by the name of Joyce Pearsall.

Joyce, like many good Master Gardeners in Transylvania County, is a transplant to the area. She was dragged to the county kicking and screaming--well, no, not really, but her husband Frank did have to work on her for awhile. Anyway, they decided to retire to Brevard, NC. Great for me. Absolutely fabulous if you were born a monarch butterfly and find yourself in this county!

A monarch caterpillar pupating in Joyce's monarch nursery. 

Monarch Momma, as I sometimes refer to her, takes monarch caterpillars out of the garden setting and into her nursery where she feeds them an extensive diet of milkweed leaves until they successfully pupate. Once they hatch out, she tags and releases them so that when a tagged monarch is recovered, the data of the find can be added to an existing database to help scientists better understand migration patterns of monarch butterflies.

Joyce has installed over half a dozen Monarch Waystations in Transylvania County. A Monarch Waystation (you can certify yours


) is designed to provide plants that monarchs need as a food source for both the adults and the caterpillars. Without nectar, they can't make it through the end of migration. Without host plants, we don't get any new monarchs! The host plants are especially important, since monarchs, like other butterflies, can get nectar from many different plants. The only plant that will work as a host plant, however, is one of the milkweeds. You can read more about that in the links at the bottom.

Joyce's latest project is the updating of the gardens surrounding the Pisgah National Forest Ranger Station located in Transylvania County. The original plantings were well thought out, but many were overgrown, and some species had choked out others. Joyce has been working on this for quite awhile by herself and with other volunteers to get the growth in check, remove invasives that had found their way in--and of course to establish a new Waystation.

Part of Joyce's philosophy of design with this very public space was to create a space so attractive and accessible that regular homeowners would think to themselves, "Well,


could do


!" She also wants to make sure that information is close at hand so that casual gardeners can find out about why it is so important to plant milkweed and nectar plants to support monarchs and other wildlife. Every native is being labeled. Posters will be framed and hung. And a few new additions to the plant list are making it into the ground.

New trellis with

Lonicera sempervirens


Two of the new additions are vines. There are a number of native vines that birds--and particularly hummingbirds--really enjoy. Trumpet vine (

Campsis radicans

) and Carolina Jessamine (

Gelsemium sempervirens

) are both extremely vigorous vines with a huge hummingbird fan base. Really, really vigorous. As in "need constant supervision." At an understaffed, federally under-funded ranger station, these vines probably would not get constant supervision. Therefore, these two vines, while delicious, are not good choices for this particular setting.

We needed to get some evergreen presence into the gardens, without plugging in something with a very large footprint. So a native evergreen vine would be a lovely thing, as long as it would be relatively well-behaved. And we have two winners!

2nd trellis with crossvine.

Coral (or trumpet) honeysuckle (

Lonicera sempervirens

) and Crossvine (

Bignonia capreolata

) are two really wonderful vines for small garden spaces. They take pruning well and are enjoyed by multiple species. They just need a good place to park their roots before they take off. Of the two, crossvine is the showier plant, absolutely loaded with blooms at the appointed time, and could hardly be more trouble-free. Wet soil, dry soil, sun or shade--you really ought to get yourself one! It serves as a host plant to the rustic sphinx moth, and blooms for about four weeks just as ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating north. Some horticulturalists have said that crossvine produces more flowers per foot than any other plant. How's that for an endorsement? We simply had to get one for Joyce's latest project.

Coral honeysuckle is a more subtle bloomer than crossvine, but keeps at it for a longer period of time. And like crossvine, coral honeysuckle benefits hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and many other species of bird. But despite its well-behaved demeanor and its extensive value to wildlife, this vine is creeping up the endangered lists in much of its native range. Like crossvine, it is not picky about soil, is very pest and disease resistant, and can handle sun or shade. When coral honeysuckle is planted in full sun, you will do it a favor to shade its roots and water well as it gets established. It is a host plant for the spring azure butterfly--the fruits are enjoyed by bluebirds, cedar waxwings and gray catbirds, among others.

Joyce's vision to get more people involved in gardening for wildlife--and particularly monarchs--is one many people share. Her drive, however, is exceptional. I hope you have a Joyce in your life to keep you inspired about gardening for wildlife!


Planning a Monarch Waystation


Not the Day I Planned


Monarch Butterfly


Asclepias spp


Pisgah National Forest


Lonicera sempervirens


Out My Backdoor: Crossvine


Mississippi State: Coral Honeysuckle


GWF: Coral Honeysuckle

*Native Backyard's home address is certified as a Monarch Waystation.

Crossvine Gets Its Closeup

Crossvine Gets Its Closeup