UBC Botanical Garden has an impressive collection of climbing plants. Climbers may have woody stems or they may be herbaceous—the stems dying back to an overwintering crown every year. Woody climbers are known as lianas. In nature, lianas typically climb up and over whatever vegetation they are growing on, smothering or strangling individual plants in the process. Once exposed to full sunlight at the top of the canopy, they often flower and fruit prolifically. Climbers are found throughout the garden, on chain-link fences, walls and arbors, but especially on trees. Ours is one of the most diverse collections of climbers growing freely on trees in a temperate botanical garden. The vine collections are composed of both documented wild plants and horticultural selections. In total, there are nearly 200 different climbers in the garden. A number are virtually unknown outside of botanical circles.

The majority of climbers in the Garden are lianas, but there are also a number of herbaceous climbers as well. These may be annual or perennial. Familiar hardy perennial herbaceous climbers include Chilean flame vine (Tropaeolum speciosum), some of the large flowered clematis and the unfortunately pernicious morning glory, or bind-weed (Calystegia sepia). Annual climbers such as sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are common constituents of the Food Garden and many kinds are sown every year both for food and ornament.

Twining climbers, such as honeysuckles, akebias and wisterias, have stems that twist around objects, even the trunks of large trees. The grapes (Vitis species) are examples of tendril climbers. Tendrils are modified shoots that arise opposite leaves along the stems. There is considerable diversity in tendril shape and function—some twine, while others, such as in Parthenocissus species, have small adhesive pads that enable plants to stick to vertical surfaces. Clematis have no need of tendrils. Their petioles—leaf stems—twine tightly around any small diameter object, including their own stems. Other climbers such as hydrangeas and trumpet creeper (Campsis species) produce aerial roots on their stems and these anchoring roots grow into tree bark to provide support to ascending stems. Scandent climbers such as roses, oleasters (Elaeagnus species) and brambles (Rubus species) use vigorous, long shoot growth, coupled with prickles, thorns or stiff, downward growing branches to clamber and climb. In the David C. Lam Asian Garden, the more vigorous climbers such as kiwi fruit, grape, wisteria and roses are tolerated only as long as they are not a threat to the host tree’s health. Overly vigorous climbers are routinely cut to the ground. They may be allowed to regrow, or if potentially weedy, may be removed outright. Hedera (evergreen ivy) species are no longer cultivated in the Garden for this reason.

Hardy Perennial Climbers in UBC Botanical Garden

Representing 22 families, 32 genera and nearly 200 species and cultivars.
  • Actinidiaceae: Actinidia(13) Clematoclethra (2)
  • Apocynaceae: Periploca(1)
  • Aristolochiaceae: Aristolochia(5)
  • Bignoniaceae: Campsis (2)
  • Campanulaceae: Codonopsis (1)
  • Caprifoliaceae: Lonicera(10)
  • Celastraceae: Celastrus (3), Tripterygium (4)
  • Convolvulaceae: Convolvulus (3)
  • Cucurbitaceae: Bryonia(1), Marah (1)
  • Elaeagnaceae: Elaeagnus (2)
  • Fabaceae: Lathyrus(5),Wisteria (11)
  • Hydrangeaceae: Hydrangea(3), Pileostegia (1), Schizophragma (10)
  • Lardizabalaceae: Akebia (4), Holboellia (5), Sinofranchetia (1), Stauntonia (2)
  • Menispermaceae: Sinomenium(1), Menispermum (1)
  • Oleaceae: Jasminum (3)
  • Papaveraceae: Dactylicapnos(1) (= Dicentra scandens)
  • Ranunculaceae: Aconitum (6), Clematis (> 50)
  • Rhamnaceae: Berchemia ( 2)
  • Rosaceae: Rosa (11), Rubus (1)
  • Rutaceae: Zanthoxylum (1)
  • Schisandraceae: Schisandra (3); Kadsura(1)
  • Solanaceae: Solanum (1)
  • Tropaeolaceae: Tropaeolum (1)
  • Vitaceae: Ampelopsis (3), Parthenocissus (6), Vitis (12)