Choosing a vine for the garden is tricky business. The perfect vine would be one that’s beautiful, easy to grow and stops at the end of the trellis. The first two criteria are relatively simple to meet. The stopping part…well, there’s your real challenge. Stopping – or more accurately, failing to stop – is a critical feature to consider when introducing any vine to your garden. Silver lace vine (Fallopia baldschuanica is an easy-growing beauty, but it does have a wild heart.
Even though silver lace vine is a vigorous grower, its stems are delicate, so it doesn’t overpower its supporting trellis.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
The white blooms appear for about a two-month period in late summer and fall.
Photo Credit: Felder Rushing
Hardy from USDA Hardiness zones 5-9, silver lace vine is a member of the smartweed family (Polygonaceae), and as such is often included in that group under the synonym Polygonum aubertii. It’s a fast-growing semi-woody perennial that climbs by twining and scampers across the ground or on low-growing shrubbery. It starts regrowth early and can climb to a height of 12-15 feet in a season. Old vines can reach 25 feet or more. The plant’s heart-shaped leaves grow to 2 inches long and die with the first hard freeze without displaying any fall color.
In late summer and early fall, masses of white, fragrant flowers are produced in terminal clusters. Individual flowers are about 1/5 of an inch wide and have five petals. Female flowers produce fluted wings on their small, triangular ovaries. These wings are often tinged green, or as the fruit ripens, red. While it’s beautiful in flower, the plant blooms over a two-month period and drops spent blossoms during that time, so it might not be a good choice for over patios, decks and other hard surfaces. The most serious pest the vine has to face is the Japanese beetle.
Silver lace vine also has a bit of an identity crisis: As a wartime refugee – the plant was collected in Central Asia during the late 19th century when Great Britain and Russia were locked in a conflict called “the Great Game” – its place in proper society has been in question.
In 1882, Albert von Regel was serving as a doctor for the Russian army when he collected the vine’s seeds in Turkestan and sent them to his father, the director of the botanic garden in St. Petersburg. In 1896, the plant was first listed in the catalog of France’s most famous nurseryman, Victor Lemoine. About that same time, a missionary named Georges Aubert sent the seeds he collected in Tibet back to France, where the plant was then named Polygonum aubertii in his honor. Later, the two species were determined to be one in the same, and the great name confusion began.
The vine even has its share of common names. While “silver lace vine” is the most encountered for the species, the plant is also known to be called mile-a-minute vine, Russian vine and China fleece flower. Botanists, depending on their views on lumping or splitting, either separate the dozen or so climbing Asian species out into the genus Fallopia or retain the traditional name Polygonum.
Whatever you may call it, silver lace vine is an easy-to-grow deciduous beauty that’s well-suited for covering fences, arbors or other garden structures. Though it’s an aggressive spreader, it shouldn’t be confused with wisteria. It does best in full-sun locations and is most vigorous in fertile, well-cared-for sites.
Remember, any vine with the potential for escaping its trellis should be planted where its spread to adjacent areas can be controlled. Severe pruning at any season can be used to control that spread. Another easy way to help control sliver lace vine’s rampant tendency is to plant it in more difficult locations and allow the species to fend for itself. (Don’t worry – with regular monitoring, everything should grow out…vine!)