Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Staff Vines - for the Birds

Celastrus subspicata
Our district contains a range of rainforest habitats, from the lush, wet gullies of the Bunya Mountains and Goomburra, to the drought hardy semi-evergreen vine thickets of our western slopes. Commonly used alternative names for their vegetation types are “vine forests”, and “vine scrubs”. Between them, they are home to about 80 species of climbing plant.

These local native vines are decidedly under-represented in our native gardens and rainforest plantings, which is a pity because of their very high value to our local wildlife.
Staff vines are particularly appealing to birds because they form dense thickets of sheltering foliage, full of safe nesting sites. Their distinctive stems, sometimes a strong orange colour, are liberally speckled with raised lenticels.

They are dioecious, so both male and female plants are needed to produce seeds. If grown from cuttings from a plant of known sex, this is no problem. Cuttings from a mature plant will also flower and seed at an earlier age than seedlings, but seedlings have the advantage of deeper roots which makes them drought hardier and likely to live longer. If planting seedlings, it's a good idea to put in at least five to be sure of getting at least one of each sex. They can be planted close together, which will create a good bird-sheltering thicket (or cover for a carport-sized pergola) quite quickly, even where the plants are still too young to flower and fruit.

They flower in November. Individually, the little greenish flowers don’t look like much, but a plant in full, fragrant flower can put on a lovely show.

Masses of tiny insects are attracted to the nectar feast, and in turn provide high protein food for nesting birds.

Female plants then set seed, producing little orange seeds capsules which split open like three-petalled flowers.

The fruits can can be found around the district at this time of year. Look for them in the scrub, where individual plants produce great quantities of seed over a long fruiting season, providing a second annual feast for birds.

Many local vines are restricted to damp rainforests, but staff vines are tough, drought-hardy plants which like to grow in a sunny position and can easily be grown in water-wise gardens. If they find nothing to climb on, they form dense tangled masses of shrubbery. They are large vines, but can be managed with pruning for smaller gardens.

This specimen has overwhelmed a small roadside tree, but larger clumps of trees happily co-exist with staff vines. In a garden we might prefer to grow them on a strong trellis or pergola, where they will form a shrubby screen or a shady roof. To produce the bird-attracting fruits it might be necessary to grow several plants, so as to have at least one plant of each sex.

This is such a desirable plant for a wildlife garden that it is worth establishing wherever room can be found for it.


NativeIllawarra said...

Thanks for focusing on vines in this post! They are so easy to overlook when planning a garden, and nurseries often don't stock them....The idea of a trellis is a great one for gardens that don't have trees big enough to support a robust vine.

Patricia Gardner said...

Yes, and the great thing about vines is that many of them are both long-lived and fast-growing. With a trellis, you can have greenery filling a space much more quickly than with trees and shrubs.

Tom said...

Hi Patricia - the vine we have here is Parsonsia straminea- with a totally inappropriate common name of monkey rope vine. It very vigorous and is a host to the common crow butterfly. I do have a small patch of tape vine (Stephania japonica) but the staff vines sound like they would be good addition to our property - anything to attract the small birds back. They sound like they are tough as well - that always appeals to me!

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Tom.
Yes, there don't seem to be many monkeys lining up to use them, do there?
I have a post somewhere on Parsonsia straminea. If you use the search function (top left-hand side) you should be able to find it.
I imagine that staff vines would grow in Brisbane. Good luck with it, if you manage to find a source of the plant.