The Biscayne Times

Jul 08th
A Vine for Small Gardens PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
April 2019

Hanging Hoyas add overhead color

TPix_YourGarden_4-19here are a tremendous number of vine species, and the beautiful flowers many of them produce make these plants a great addition to certain landscapes. Most vines, however, aren’t good candidates for smaller gardens, as they can become quite rampant.

At Parrot Jungle we had several vines species that would put on eye-catching floral displays several months of the year. We grew them on large trellises, some over 30 feet tall, to create vivid mats of color and, with certain species, a wonderful fragrance.

Our largest vine trellis, after the 200-foot-long arbor of bougainvillea, was Rangoon creeper or Quisqualis indica, with multicolored and fragrant flowers. Hummingbirds love this vine in the winter. We used care growing it; like many vines, it can be invasive.

Near Parrot Jungle in the 1970s was a house whose roof was completely covered with the flame vine Pyrostegia venusta. When it was in full bloom, the spectacular carpet of bright orange would literally stop traffic on the street.

Most vines need lots of space, yet there are some that can be grown in a small landscape. One such vine I introduced onto a recently transplanted tree at Parrot Jungle was Hoya kerrii, a slow-growing succulent type of vine that produces jewel-like clusters of flowers that look like they’re made of wax. I chose it because a more aggressive vine would have climbed over the treetop and smothered its foliage, whereas it could be easily maintained and contained within a single canopy. I also wanted to introduce something park visitors would never see growing in a natural situation.

It took a couple of years for the vine to grow large and high enough in the canopy, maybe 15 feet, and to sprout the small hanging tendrils that would produce flowers. Unlike many species of vines that produce flowers in full sun and, in most cases, on the top of the tree, the individual clusters of flowers, called umbels, on Hoya species hang down inside the canopy, making this a great horticultural addition. The umbels could be teacup-sized or larger, meaning people walking underneath the tree could see them easily.

Now that I cultivate my own garden, I recently grew a couple of Hoya kerrii from leaf cuttings, the same way one can propagate many other succulents. As soon it got up to 15 inches or so, growing straight up, I planted it next to the trunk of a large live oak I have in my garden. The stem after planting was also straight up and about ten inches from the trunk.

What was really cool about this is that the stem grows toward the tree trunk. It took about five days until the stem starting leaning in the direction of the trunk, and about ten days before the growing stem was winnowing its way up the trunk, growing between the large chunks of bark. It was also starting to produce small hold-fast roots onto the bark so it could secure itself to the trunk. No need to tie this plant to the tree.

This is how most species of vines begin their formative years. Seeds germinate on the forest floor and start growing toward dark, climbable surfaces. This is negative phototropism, a growing away from the light, toward the gloom, and is called skototropism.

I now have several species of Hoya that I’m planting on some of my other trees. These will produce umbels of different colors. What a great plant for a garden!

A longtime friend of my mine, now passed away, grew another species, Hoya carnosa, on one of his live oak trees, up to about 30 feet. The pink umbels on this species would make a mass of color that could be seen while driving past his house, with no detriment to the tree since the vine tended to stay below the canopy and didn’t cover the tree’s leaves and block the sunlight. I think the Hoya was on the tree for about 30 years.

It is difficult to see in the photo accompanying this article, but the red individual flowers exude droplets of nectar, as do the flowers of many of the Hoya species. This tasty nectar attracts pollinators.

Hoya species can be grown in hanging pots and will flower, but the pots need to be hung high enough to give clearance to the hanging tendrils that produce the colorful umbels. I had a friend who would cut the hanging tendrils so the plant looked nice and tidy. It never bloomed until my friend became enlightened and let the tendrils grow down to produce blooms. I think Hoyas look better in a tree.


Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist, municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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