Chinese trumpet creeper (Campsis grandiflora) is a showcase, drop-dead-gorgeous vine – and the perfect plant for that special full-sun spot in your garden. Positioned so the backdrop is a dark evergreen, the plant literally erupts into a vertical carpet of 3-inch-long, reddish-orange flowers tinged with yellow and salmon hues. On a post, this bright “petunia-on-a-stick” will shock and amaze the most jaded of gardeners. At the Stephen F. Austin State University Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches, TX, flowering rolls in on a surge in early summer. The show lasts a month, and then the vine casually throws a few flowers off and on for the rest of the year, depending on plant health.

Chinese Trumpet Creeper close up

Chinese trumpet creepers are colorful, sun-loving vines sure to please.

Photo Credit: David Creech

Campsis grandiflora in China

A spectacular Campsis grandiflora grows in a hotel courtyard near Ningbo, China.

Photo Credit: David Creech

I’ve been lucky enough to see this amazing vine used in China, where it can be found everywhere in public gardens and in the landscape, as well as adorning every kind of business you might envision. (Catching the vine in peak bloom at a hotel garden near Ningbo, China, was a special treat.) What I’d like to see now is this great plant used more in US gardens as well. It makes quite an attractive addition to the landscape.

This deciduous vine is hardy in zones 6-9 and likes well-drained soil in partial shade to full sun. In the juvenile stage, the vine can grow several feet per year and needs no major maintenance program than our American trumpet creeper. (Prune in late winter or early spring to remove any shoots growing in an unwanted direction.)

Chinese trumpet creeper has an American trumpet creeper counterpart, Campsis radicans, which sports smaller, more tubular flowers that are generally orange to dark orange with none of the flair of its Chinese cousin. What’s more, American trumpet creeper is an aggressive plant – a very fast grower that can easily generate a root-suckering problem in the landscape. (OK, I agree: It can be a beast.) But there’s a cross between Campsis radicans and Campsis grandiflora that produces a nice hybrid called Campsis x tagliabuana, most often represented in the US nursery industry by the cultivar ‘Madame Galen’. This cross is an evident mix of the two trumpet creepers, creating a large, showy bloom often orange to red that appears in summer. The flowers aren’t quite as large as Chinese trumpet creeper’s, but they’re much showier than American trumpet creeper blooms.

What’s interesting is that this cross is way too often confused with the Chinese species. (In fact, a careful inspection of Campsis grandiflora images found via any Internet search proves without a doubt that there’s a problem in plant recognition with the Campsis crowd.) The simplest way to separate the two trumpet creeper species and their cross is by carefully looking at the calyx (all of the sepals, or the outermost whorl of the flower): Chinese trumpet creeper features a greenish calyx with long, pointed lobes; the American trumpet creeper enjoys a darker calyx with shorter lobes that aren’t pointed; and the cross lies in between.

While reported “in the wild” in the Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hebei, Shandong and Shanxi provinces of China, Chinese trumpet creeper is also in cultivation in Taiwan, Korea and Japan and can be found in gardens around the world. Let’s see more of it in our own gardens, too!