Native Vines for the Land of El Sol

Last week I wrote that vines are easy to grow since they need very little root space to flourish. They work well for both large and small yards!  Here are some of you top choices.

Where to Buy

There are a vast number of native vines that grow well in the area. Most of the ones I mention here are easily available at local nurseries. Big box stores will not have them because they buy nationally, not locally. (List of local Southwest nurseries – here.)

Breaking every blogger rule – right in the middle of the post – I am going to ask you to jump to the bottom of the page and help me and all your fellow gardeners in the Land of El Sol! Please share with me YOUR favorite place(s) to buy plants. I am recreating my resources page and your help would be fantastic! You can also share on the Gardening With Soule Facebook page.

Tendrils grab onto things to help vines climb. Once broken they do not regrow – it’s a very unique plant tissue.

Native Vines

Native vines mostly twine on their own, so you don’t need to add special ties. These are not like kudzu – none of these vines strangle the plant they grow on. Most of these vines can be found existing in harmony with saguaros, ocotillos and mesquite trees.

Climbing Milkweed Vine

Milkweeds are now the rage and this one is great!  Climbing milkweed vine (Sacrostemma cynanchioides) used to be unpopular in Tucson because it would “take over” a chain link fence.  It easily grows with natural rainfall alone and attracts butterflies. Why complain?!  I grabbed a few seed pods from a vacant lot and placed them in the soil along my fence line.  I now have a nice butterfly attracting fence cover!

Climbing milkweed vine has incredibly fragrant masses of flowers.

Sarcostemma has long slender leaves and is not much to look at, but wait until it flowers – all summer long!  Fragrant with a capital F!  The large clusters of white with magenta flowers are danced over by a number of butterflies but especially the Monarch mimic, the Queen. Watch for the bizarrely shaped brown chrysalis’ and emerging “royalty.”

A moderate grower, a single climbing milkweed reaches around 20 X 10 feet. They don’t stop there though. It does spread underground, showing up elsewhere in the yard. I simply pull it out where it is not wanted.

Janusia, AKA Propeller Vine

Janusia [ja*new*zia] (Janusia gracilis) is a graceful vine with tiny leaves and small graceful yellow to white flowers. It flowers profusely through spring and monsoon season. A walk on rocky Catalina foothills slopes will discover the plant.  Better yet – just follow the butterflies in monsoon season, they flock to this vine.


A moderate grower, each vine reaches around 20 X 10 feet in the wild. Ask me again in five years what they do in cultivation.

Why “propeller vine?  The seed pods look like little propellers!

Arizona Grape Ivy

A relative of grapes it does not produce a fruit edible by humans, although birds seem to like it.  Cissus incisa is twining, and it also has tendrils.  It’s considered a naturalized vine with bright green fleshy leaves and small muskily fragrant greenish-yellow flowers. Tiny native bees (Perdita?) will flock to the blooms.

Glossy green leaves add a grace note to the garden.

Grow Arizona grape ivy for the succulent leaves and its beautiful way of curving up a mesquite trunk, looking stunning with bright green leaves against the dark bark. The cactus wrens in my yard know to turn the leaves over to look for insect goodies in the shady cool underneath.

Masses of Blooms with Mascagnia

A plant from our sister state, mascagnia [mass*cagg*nee*ah] (Mascagnia macoptera) is also called yellow orchid vine. From the rocky arid hills of southern Sonora, it does well north of the border too. Mascagnia rewards watering with a lavish display of inch long yellow, orchid-like flowers. A slow grower, it may reach 5 X 5 the first year, but it keeps on growing and growing, and growing, to 20 X 30 feet.

Mascagnia flowers are pretty and so are the seed pods.

The seed pods are kinda cool too.  The “macoptera” part of the scientific name shares the same Latin root word seen in helicopter.  The seeds can copter, or fly to new locations.



Helpful Newsletter!

I will send you my latest free PDF guide to some aspect of gardening here in the Land of El Sol. Topic changes several times a year and all subscribers get the latest one! 

soule-butterfly-vinesFor yet more about some low-water vines that attract butterflies here in the Land of El Sol, I do recommend the book I wrote on the topic.

Butterfly Gardening in Southern Arizona   – which includes the greater Phoenix area.  Note – This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute may get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. Also, you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


4 thoughts on “Native Vines for the Land of El Sol

  1. My favorite native species nursery is Desert Survivors. They sell with knowledge and integrity.

  2. I got Tepary Bean seeds from Ramona Farms online. They are in Sacaton, AZ, and they also feature more bean varieties and additional Native American produce. I liked their customer service and informative posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *