We work very hard to maintain our gardens and then we look up and vines are growing 20′ into the trees. I get asked frequently “what is growing up my trees?” My first answer is “probably the same things growing on your fences.” These include Smilax species, commonly called catbrier or greenbrier, Vitis rotundifolia, referred to as wild muscadine grape, Parthenocissus quinquefolia or Virginia Creeper, and the one to be most careful with, Toxicodendron radicans, known by many as Poison Ivy.
Smilax is a native vine that grows quickly in spring and all summer. There are 12 species in Florida and 9 species commonly found in the Panhandle. Besides being armed with thorns on their stems and some leaves, Smilax spreads by underground stems called rhizomes. If you choose to ignore it, some species can cover your trees and the stems become woody and hard to remove. This vine also produces fruit and seeds are dispersed by birds all while the underground rhizomes are spreading under your lawns and gardens.
Removal can be difficult and mowing the vines only encourages more growth. When trying to remove by hand, wear heavy leather gloves and some eye protection because of the thorns. Cut the stems about three feet above the ground which allows you some stem to pull on to bring it out of your tree. You also then have a handle to pull and try to remove some of the rhizome from underground. Digging rhizomes is time consuming, but gives you piece of mind that they won’t come back immediately. Our family actually harvests the new shoots in spring and we use them like asparagus.
Wild muscadine grape is also native and difficult to remove. Most of the vines in nature are male and only produce by runners along the ground and then grow upwards. The female vine can produce 4-10 grapes in a cluster and then reseeds itself.
Wild grape completely covers plants and eventually the plants underneath can die. There are no thorns to contend with when removing wild grape, it is just time consuming, especially if it has taken over your fence or natural areas.
Virginia Creeper is a native vine, still considered a nursery plant in some areas of the country, and has bright red fall color.
It is most often confused with poison ivy because of having five leaflets per leaf whereas poison ivy only has three leaflets per leaf. It spreads by seeds, runs along the ground, and is the easiest of these four vines to remove from your property.
Poison Ivy is a native vine distinguished by its three leaflets with the individual leaflets getting up to 6″ long. This vine spreads by seeds and underground rhizomes. What makes removal of this vine difficult is the urushiol oils which causes the skin rashes and blistering.
Care must be taken to cover up all skin and I recommend wearing waterproof clothes versus cotton which can absorb the oils and transfer them to your skin. Under no circumstances should these vines be put on the burn pile, the oils can become airborne and then you can inhale them.
Here are a few helpful tips when battling these native vines. First have patience and be dedicated, this removal will not happen over night. It may take a year or two to rid your property of the original vines. Be diligent though, because birds will continually land in your trees and deposit more seeds to get a fresh start. Try to remove vines when they are young and just beginning to climb your trees and fences. If you know you don’t have the time or energy to remove the vines from all your trees, at least cut the vines close to the ground to reduce flowering and new seeds. Be careful with poison ivy because falling leaves still contain oils. Once the vines start to have a new flush of growth, spray a non-selective herbicide on new growth and you should have good results. Lastly, remember one person can make a difference in trying to reduce the number of nuisance vines in our communities.
Here are some sited references to help with your removal tasks. Key to Nine Common Smilax Species of Florida. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr375. Smilax is a Vine that can be Difficult to Control. http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/2017/04/21/smilax-is-a-vine-that-can-be-difficult-to-control/. The Muscadine Grape (Vitus rotundifolia Michx.) https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/hs100. Muscadine Grape Vines: Difficult to Control in Your Landscape. http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/2017/03/24/muscadine-grape-vines-difficult-to-control-in-your-landscape/. Parthenocissus quinquefolia: Virginia Creeper https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fp454. Identification of Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, and Poisonwood. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP220.