A Gardening Journal
The Best Season Ever: Cardinal Climber
- Published: September 22 2016
Each year I add another vine or two from the morning glory genus to the gardens' Spring-to-frost display. There are so many choices that look nothing like this genus's heart-leaved namesakes. What they do have in common is boundless vigor and floriferousness, plus a complete lack of acrophobia.
This is cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida), a hybrid of two red-flowered species, cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) and red morning glory (Ipomoea coccinea). It has raced to the top of a tuteur that I had made "only" fourteen feet tall. Silly me!
Planted out in late May, three small Ipomoea x multifida had reached the top by early August. Since then, tips have extended out as if in hope of finding a more respectably high climbing structure. Fourteen feet is clearly not this vine's seasonal limit.
In addition to this vine's inherent vigor, these circumstances helped to maximize the height of its growth: The vines are planted in a very large pot full of "fantasy" soil: potting soil plus organic compost. In the picture below, you can see that a center piece of rebar is buttressed by three angled pieces, forming a tripod with a startlingly tall center pole. The rebar's rough and rusty surface—plus the raised spiral thread—provide enabling tactility so that the vines ascend securely as well as quickly. I'll soon show another form of this vine that has topped a twenty-foot tripod of galvanized pipe almost as quickly, proving that the stems can also climb smooth-surfaced poles two inches in diameter.
The vines twine left to right, whereas the threads of two of the rebars are right to left. If I had inserted all the rebar pieces so that their threads ran left to right, would that provide still more support and encouragement for twining?
With all possible assistance, would vines grow to twenty feet by September? Thirty? My practical limit for such free-standing training is twenty feet, in that rebar comes in this length and, as long as the structure were adjacent to the house, I could reach the top via my extension ladder.
The performance of Ipomoea x multifida is identical in every aspect except foliage to that of one of its parents, Ipomoea quamoclit. Leaves of I. quamoclit are pinnate, and far more finely laciniated. As below, a heart is the overall shape of a leaf of I. x multifida, which derives from its other parent, I. coccinea. For my money, the foliage of I. quamoclit is superior, but the difference with I. x. multifida is apparent only up close.
The common names of both vines are problematic. Cypress vine is entirely unrelated to cypress, which is a common name already used for almost any soft-foliaged conifer, including Cedrus, Chamaecyparis, Cryptomeria, Cupressus, Cupressocyparis, Juniperus, Larix, Metasequoia, Taxodium, and Thuja. I. x multifida is known as cardinal climber, but cardinals feed on seeds, not nectar. More plausibly, the name is a reference to the flowers' color, cardinal red.
Ipomoea x multifida is also known as Ipomoea sloteri. Here's how to grow Ipomoea quamoclit, one of its parent species. Its hardiness, vigor, mature size, handling, flower color, and floriferousness are the same.
Here's how to grow fire vine, Ipomoea lobata.
Here's a look at yet another of these high-flying morning glory species: moonvine, Ipomoea alba, as well as a link for how to grow it. Unlike the vines above, its undivided heart-shaped leaves, dense growth, and immense trumpet-shaped flowers say "morning glory" to everyone.
Other "That's a morning glory?" vines that I'll be profiling in the coming months include giant woolly morning glory, Argyreia nervosa, and Hawaiian woodrose, Merrimia tuberosa.