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never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

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New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Dragon Lady Crossvine



These are buds with firepower. Over two inches long, they have a torpedo-like thrust that demands attention. Their fiery color only increases the urgency: What will they look like when they've opened into flowers? Trumpet vine flowers, that's what. 




But in Spring?  Trumpet vine is an iconic flower in high Summer. Ah, the delights of its cousin, the crossvine. This is Bignonia capreolata 'Dragon Lady', whose flowers are noticeably darker than those of the straight species. Those are often bright yellow inside, whereas flowers of 'Dragon Lady' are brick-red and orange, with just a blush of interior yellow. The mature flower's prominent pistil and stamens transform the bud's look from boxer's-glove-heading-your-way-fast to goofy buck-toothed friendliness.




The foliage of crossvine is more interesting than that of trumpet vine, too: Look at the shiny, burgundy-blushed new leaves below.






Here's how to grow this versatile native vine:


Latin Name

Bignonia capreolata 'Dragon Lady'

Common Name

'Dragon Lady' crossvine


Bignoniaceae, the trumpet vine family.

What kind of plant is it?

Semi-evergreen self-clinging vine.


Zones (5)6 - 9. Although crossvine is broadly native to eastern North America—from southern Ontario to Florida—the vine is rarely encountered even in the comparatively benign Zone 7 of New York City, let alone farther north.


Branching and self-clinging, crossvine can scramble up almost any surface, and can grow as widely as available support allows.

Rate of Growth

Vigor increases with the mildness of the climate. At the northern edge of its hardiness range—roughly north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers—crossvine can be delicate and even tentative.  Farther south, the vine's growth is more and more confident and speedy; the challenge becomes control, not viability.

Size in ten years

Vigor and coverage are much greater where the vine is reliably stem-hardy: in the warmer reaches of Zones 7 through 9. There, stems might climb thirty to fifty feet, as well as emerging directly from the roots. Coverage, then, could be indefinite.


Much, much less vigorous in Zone 6 and at the colder end of Zone 7, where even stem hardiness is an achievement, let alone flowering. Even in sheltered circumstances—see the second "How to handle it" box, below—my 'Dragon Lady' here in southern New England seems unlikely to explore higher than eight to ten feet.


Provided crossvine is able to grow vigorously (see "Culture" and the "How to handle it" boxes, below), growth is dense and strikingly more "veneering" of host structures than its hardier cousin, trumpet vine. In full flower, crossvine often creates sheets of blossom; a trumpet vine in full flower looks like a stop-action shot of exploding fireworks. Out of flower, crossvine's foliage can also create a distinctly sheet-like and dense effect. 

Grown for

its comparatively well-behaved habit: Although crossvine is closely related to trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, it is much less rambunctious. Campsis usually spreads with alarming speed and tenacity via far-reaching underground runners. It's also much hardier, to Zone 4 and, unless pruned confidently, can quickly grow into a heavy, mounding, enveloping mass. Crossvine can sucker from its roots in Zone 7 and warmer, but shoots are not nearly as far-flung. Its growth is also less voluminous and, at least by comparison, seems to hug support structures. By contrast, Campsis sends shoots outward in all directions from the anchored stems, like horto-fireworks.


its early season of flowering: Campsis flowers at the tips of new stems, which need some time to mature sufficiently to initiate bud formation. Flowering, then, typically doesn't begin until July. Bignonia capreolata flowers on old stems. If flowers were not to be covered by what is usually a lush quantity of new growth, they had better emerge early in the season—which, indeed, is just what they do. Growing crossvine, then, is one way to enjoy trumpet-vine-like flowers many weeks earlier than when trumpet vines themselves produce them.


its fast growth: Where growth isn't killed back by severe Winter weather, crossvine is renowned for its ability to cover even large structures.


its self-adhering habit: Crossvine climbs by affixing itself to anything—wood, masonry, probably even glass or metal—by way of small sticky disks at the tips of the branches of its tendrils. Stems don't need training or special structures (wires, say) to help them ascend and affix permanently. 


its foliage: each leaf consists of a pair of shiny, smooth-edged, pointed leaflets with a branching tendril between them. New foliage is blushed burgundy; mature foliage is green. The foliage is well displayed against plants or structures whose surface is fuzzy, suede-like, irregular, or rough. See "Plant partners," below. The foliage is evergreen in the warmer reaches of Zone 7—probably Washington, D.C.—and south. In cooler climates, it colors burgundy in Fall and may persist the Winter. At the cold end of its range—Zones 6 and 5—the foliage is more and more deciduous.


its flowers: Trumpet-vine lookalikes in size, shape, and coloring, any crossvine in bloom is a shock the first time you encounter one: How can a trumpet vine be in flower in Spring? Crossvine does trumpet vine one better, in that the Spring show, borne on last year's growth, is held closely to the surface of the plant. Flowers of trumpet vine are borne at the tips of new growth that can lengthen to six and eight feet before starting into bud. Inevitably, the floral show of trumpet vine is somewhat diffuse. A vigorous crossvine in flower is a sharp contrast, presenting so many flowers so close to the main body of the plant that they nearly form a carpet.


its tolerance of exposures and soils: Crossvine thrives in both sun and shade, but flowers best in full sun. It is fairly drought-tolerant after it's established, but also tolerates sites that experience occasional saturation and even flooding.


its appeal to hummingbirds: Trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of red and orange are these birds' favorite. Crossvine flowers are another way to tempt hummers with the blossoms they love.


its comparative hardiness and vigor: 'Dragon Lady' is reported to be somewhat hardier than the species, as well as more floriferous. 

Flowering season

Late Spring here in Rhode Island:  Early June.

Color combinations

The brick-red of the outside of the trumpets combines with the subtle yellow mottling of the interior to make the flowers of 'Dragon Lady' interesting enough all by themselves. There's no need to introduce contrasting colors, such as blue or violet, or even bright neutrals, such as white or cream, or even light yellow. Stick with similar "hots" like orange and tomato, adding darker companions such as burgundy and ebony. 

Plant Partners

At the cold end of crossvine's hardiness range, the primary consideration needs to be to increase the chances of stem viability. Happily, my oh-so-practical combination of growing 'Dragon Lady' up through the dense and columnar 'Gold Cone' juniper is aesthetic, too. (See the second "How to handle it" box, below.) The juniper's sheltering growth turns soft gold in Spring, and meshes with the gold highlights within the trumpet of the 'Dragon Lady' blossoms. And the vine's shiny, dark, and comparatively large foliage couldn't be a better contrast to the minute non-reflective needles of the juniper.


Where crossvine is more reliably hardy—in Zones 7 and warmer—the vine's versatility can be celebrated. What about growing it up into a Magnolia grandiflora? The tree would then seem to be in flower much earlier in the year, and with exciting orange or red trumpets instead of its typical (but still fabulous) white bowl-shaped blooms. Or there could be a pairing with "regular" trumpet vine, Campsis radicans. I grow 'Morning Calm' up tall permanent stakes, and the previous year's flowering stems are pruned back to the vertical sheaf of stems each Spring. If 'Dragon Lady' were also growing up that stake, it would be in flower when the 'Morning Calm' was only just starting to grow its lengthy lateral flowering stems. They would project outward through the Bignonia growth, and dangle their sensational flowers in July and August. Meanwhile, the shade-tolerant but much less outward-bound Bignonia would still continue to thrive. Early next Spring, pruning away last year's Campsis laterals clears the stage for the mid-Spring floral display of the Bignonia.


Shrubs and trees can host a crossvine as long as they are large enough that the vine won't overwhelm them. If crossvine is reliably hardy where you're gardening, it might be wisest to let the vine loose only on supporting plants or structures that are not so large they would put the vine's top growth out of reach of any needed pruning. One convenient choice would be to let crossvine clothe the trunk of a shrub or tree you grew as a standard. Then, pruning needed to maintain the host plant's overall shape would also keep the crossvine in bounds. Plants whose standard shape is maintained through pollarding might be the most satisfying choice of all: The same annual massacre to remove the host plant's prior-year growth would, at the same time, also cut off errant crossvine stems. Plus, the crossvine's Spring flowering would clothe the truck, to provide an unexpected peak display at a time when the pollard is otherwise at its most severely denuded. If I were gardening in the bosom of Zone 7, I'd grow 'Dragon Lady' up the trunk of my pollard of black-leaved catalpa.


Although crossvine can send up shoots from the roots, this ability is modest in comparison to the aggressive and far-reaching underground shoots produced by trumpet vine, Campsis radicans. So it is easier to grow companion plants near the base of the crossvine. The vine's flowers are thrilling but ephemeral, whereas the combination of the vine's foliage with the show of the companion plant will last for months. Choose companions whose foliage is distinctly different in shape, texture, and coloring from the shiny, narrow, and often purple-blushed leaves of the crossvine. Also choose companions that are presentable when the crossvine is at its floral peak in mid-Spring. Avoid those that are also in flower in Spring: No show could compete with that of the crossvine. What about mounding or horizontal conifers, such as prostrate plum yew or gold-needled forms of juniper or Norway spruce? Purple-leaved smokebush or its tender look-alike, Carribean copper bush, would be a terrific companion to one side or the other. 

Where to use it in your garden

Crossvine can climb almost anything, so is a useful plant for clothing garden structures such as pergolas and screens. Its shade tolerance makes the vine even more practical, in that these structures nearly always become self-shading as the coverage becomes fuller. Crossvine is likely to remain full and leafy even as the maturing vine shades its lower portions.


Crossvine will also clamber through woody plants, where its flowers can provide a Spring show to hosts that might otherwise not be showy then. See "Plant partners" for an introduction.


Full sun is best, but part shade is tolerated. Almost any soil, although well-drained sites are essential to maximize hardiness.

How to handle it: The Basics.

Plant in Spring. Provide a structure for the vine to climb; it can ascend just about anything, be it a tree or, as I've used, a dense evergreen conifer; a wood wall, post, fence, lattice, or pergola; or even structures that include glass or metal or plastic. 


Young plants can be suprisingly pokey, taking a couple of years to establish. They can also be slow to leaf out in Spring. Be patient. If you're attempting to establish crossvine in Zone 6, let alone Zone 5, don't give up hope until July that a seemingly-dead plant will develop new growth.


If control of size or volume is needed, prune right after flowering: Crossvine flowers each Spring on growth that was formed the prior year, and that growth needs a full season to mature enough to be ready to flower the following Spring.

How to handle it: Another option—or two!

The showy flowers at what, for Northerners, at least, will seem a startlingly early season make Bignonia capreolata tempting, indeed. Although established plants that receive substantial winterkill will usually resprout from the base, or even from the roots, unless top growth can be sustained through the Winter, the flowers will never be formed. In this regard, crossvine is like Hydrangea macrophylla: The relatively early-in-the-season flowers form only on woody growth that has survived the Winter.


All the usual assists in maximizing hardiness need to be employed: Plant in a site that ensures the greatest exposure to sun, which will increase the plant's overall vigor as well as maximizing its ability to harden new growth in time for Winter. Plant in a site that is notably well-drained in the Winter, even if this means that you need to provide supplemental water in the Summer. Plant with any available shelter—from buildings or dense evergreen plants or both—at the east and north but not at the West and South, which would block the higher heat and stronger sunlight of mid-day and afternoon. Mulch the base of the plant heavily in late Fall, and don't rush to scuffle back the mulch in early Spring, when hard frosts and surprise snow can still occur.  


Alas, even if all of these measures are possible, let alone successful, flowering will still not take place if top growth is killed off. To increase top-growth viability, plant where the vine can adhere to a building that is heated; there is some heat loss through building walls, which is to the vine's advantage. Because the vine shouldn't be allowed to adhere to clapboards or shingles, see if there's a masonry option. A chimney that faces south or west would be ideal. Also consider affixing a sheet of wind-baffle fabric across the vine from late Fall to mid-Spring. 


It's often easier, instead, to plant a "nurse" evergreen into which you can train the crossvine. If growth is dense enough, and stems of the vine can be led into the center of the evergreen, the vine will send stems outward from within a thick layer of wind-baffle. If the central core of stems is sheltered well enough, the occasional loss of those peripheral stems might not preclude all flowering.


My 'Dragon Lady' is successfully colonizing the dense column of growth of my Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone'. This juniper is full to the ground, and the crossvine is planted near its base, so that the vine's stems are sheltered almost at their point of origin. The juniper's tight upright form is maintained by an annual spiral of twine applied each Fall. Before each retwining, gently loosen the branches (which are vertical and arise from the base of the shrub, not from a central trunk) so they splay outward. Rearrange growth of the crossvine as necessary to embed it more deeply into the vertical core of the juniper. Then regroup the juniper stems in their desired columnar array and hold in place with the spiral of twine.

Quirks and special cases

The flowers are fragrant, with many sources describing it as mocha. My 'Dragon Lady' has just become established enough to flower: The spray in the pictures is the totality of bloom for this season! And I forgot to sniff to verify the character and intensity of the fragrance.


The "cross" in crossvine doesn't refer to the trumpet-like flowers, narrow shiny leaves, or branching tendrils. Rather, if one of the vine's stems is cut, its cross section reveals four radial wedges that define the stem's internal structure. Their edges form a Greek cross, which, unlike the Christian one, has all four of its arms the same length.


Bignonia capreolata can be challenging to establish in Zone 6 and colder—and challenging to control in Zone 7 and warmer. Perhaps there's a geographic sweet spot mild enough that the vine is fairly easy to establish, but also cool enough that it doesn't become rampant. Greater Philadephia, perhaps


Several forms of Bignonia capreolata are established at Chanticleer, the astounding estate garden in nearby Wayne, PA. On my next visit, I must inquire how they are doing. More recently, I've discovered crossvine growing lustily up walls of the vast walled garden of the swiftly-reviving pre-war estate, now open to the public, Untermyer Park, in Yonkers, NY.  


The buds of the straight species of Bignonia capreolata are brick red, like those of 'Dragon Lady', but open to reveal flowers whose lower petals are yellow, and whose uppers are only blushed red. It's a strongly bicolored presentation, which might not be as appealing or versatile. Flowers of 'Atrosanguinea' are brick red, and seem similar to those of 'Dragon Lady'. Flowers of 'Helen Fredel' are noticably larger; they are salmon-apricot, with a yellow throat. Flowers of 'Tangerine Beauty' have a distinct yellow throat; this cultivar is reported as being repeat-flowering. 


'Dragon Lady' is reported to be somewhat hardier than either the species or these other cultivars. Even so, establishment even in Zone 6 usually seems like an achievement; in Zone 5, an impossibility. I rarely see Bignonia in gardens in New York City, which is reliably Zone 7, although I was thrilled to discover crossvine growing strongly on a semi-shady wall of an unwinterized cabin in the woods in Rhode Island. That site would have provided solid Zone 6 cold. Regardless, I have failed several times in establishing 'Dragon Lady' in other spots in my own garden, even those that were sheltered and provided good drainage. 


On-line and, where solidly hardy, at retailers.


By cuttings, by division of older colonies that have produce stems directly from the roots, and by seed.

Native habitat

Bignonia capreolata is native to eastern and central North America, from Ontario to Florida, and west to Missouri and Texas.

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