Temperate Zone Lianas Will Blozan
  December 26, 2008


The discovery of the super-tall Virginia creeper last week got me to
thinking about several things. One is we don't typically track lianas or
have a "database" of them on the website. I have measured a few here and
there that I happened to notice but do not actively search them out. For
example, while treating the hemlocks in the Coon Branch Natural Area, SC in
September I measured a wild muscadine grape (Vitus rotundifolia) growing
into a white pine to no less than 135 feet. My previous record for VA
creeper was 131.5 feet for a 3/8th inch vine growing into one of the Tsuga
Search hemlocks. I have also measured Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia durior)
to the mid 120's in the Smokies. "Dales Demise", the 180 foot second-growth
white pine in the Smokies is full of grape vines that have never been
measured. Congaree is chock full of huge vines and these could be sampled in
February. Meeman Shelby is also an impressive liana site as shown in the
post of Jess and my trip in 2006.

Doug Riddle and a VA creeper in Congaree

Dutchman's pipe in GRSM, TN

Also, how high can a liana grow? Obviously it would be dependent on the
height of the trees. Maybe there are 200 foot poison ivy vines on cliff
faces somewhere? In the eastern forests, Virginia creeper will never get as
high as those in the Smokies since the trees that support them are shorter
elsewhere. (Yes, Bob, this puts the Smokies onto another superlative list.)
But one possible difference in lianas is path length, not absolute height.
Some vines may have several miles of combined vascular pathways (as would a
180 foot tuliptree.). Maybe liana heights are limited the same as tree
height? For a tree to reach 180 feet it takes a huge amount of combined
pathways to support that one highest tip. Perhaps this is the same for

I am also intrigued by the mechanical logistics of climbing lianas. The
balance of light, growth, substrate (bark), strength (free hanging versus
attached), twining, etc. opens up a whole new understanding of liana
ecology. Interestingly, in all of my climbs I have never seen an epiphytic

Are there western temperate lianas that could grown taller than those here
in the east? Asian? Bruce Allen probably has some background on these

Will F. Blozan

President, Eastern Native Tree Society
President, Appalachian Arborists, Inc.


Continued at:

ENTS,  Will,

Great stuff.  I would guess then that the greatest potential for highest vines would be in the forests of the Pacific northwest.  Hopefully Steve Sillett, BVP, or others from our NW cluster  will provide some information from the area.  I already checked the old-growth books from the Washington State website and they say nothing about vines in the canopies.  

One website http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0406.htm discussing tropical vines says:  "Creepers, vines, and lianas (woody vines) are abundant in the canopy and make up a significant proportion of the vegetation in tropical rainforests. There are over 2,500 species of vines from about 90 families. They range from small, indiscrete vines that grow against the tree to giant lianas thick as trees that seemingly hang in the middle of the forest independent of trees. Some of the larger woody lianas may exceed 3,000 feet in length. Rattan, a liana, is well known for its use in furniture and ropes. Rattan also produces large, edible fruits—a favorite of primates."

Stefan Schnitzer of the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee is a researcher in among other things the community ecology of lianas.  In response to an email I sent him about some of the vines we are finding here in the eastern US, he replied:  "Very interesting stuff.  Grapes can attain an impressively large circumference - 4'9" is quite amazing.  The largest vine that I have come across in Panama was an Entada monostachia (legume) that was just over 55 cm diameter, which, if my calculations are correct, is 69" (5'9") in circumference.  I don't normally follow vine height - it takes too much time.  However one researcher followed a vine in Panama for more than 500 meters in distance through something like 39 tree crowns before he stopped - the vine didn't stop, though."

In a 2002 paper, Schnitzer and Bongers review some of the mechanisms lianas use to ascend to the heights of the canopy. "Lianas have a variety of adaptations for attaching themselves to their host and climb towards the forest canopy," say the scientists. "These adaptations include stem twining, clasping tendrils arising from stem, leaf and branch modifications, thorns and spikes that attach the liana to its host, downward-pointing adhesive hairs, and adhesive, adventitious roots . . . The relative proportion of lianas with different climbing mechanisms might be directly influenced by the successional stage or disturbance regime of the forest." Upon reaching the canopy, vines and lianas spread from tree to tree, and in some forests their leaves may make up 40 percent of canopy leaves. Hemiepiphytes rely on a different strategy. These plants start life in the canopy as epiphytes and grow down to the ground. Hemiepiphytes grow extremely slowly due to dry conditions in the canopy but once the roots reach the ground and tap into the nutrients of the leaf litter, growth rates accelerate. One of the best known hemiepiphytes is the Strangler Fig. (Schnitzer, S.A. and F. Bongers (2002).  The ecology of lianas and their role in forests. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 17: 223 - 230.  PDF)

The number of species of vines in temperate United States is certainly much smaller than found in many tropical forests, and their role in the shaping the ecosystem may not be as dramatic, but certainly this is a subject worth examining as part of the overall forest system.  

Ed Frank


I haven't studied how high lianas grow into tree tops but they over
top the canopy in the Congaree.  Grapes and trumpet creeper, in
particular, over top their host.  I collected maximum diameter data
during my vine coring trip to the Congaree.  The larges grape was 24.5
cm dbh.  The largest trumpet creeper was 40 cm dbh.  Seven species got
larger than 10 cm dbh in the Congaree.  The study of Lianas has
focused on tropical forests primarily (See Schnitzer and Bongers
2002).  I have written three papers on temperate vine ecology in the
Congaree.  My dissertation involved coring 100 poison ivy and trumpet
creeper, so I have a little more insight in radial growth rates.
Schnitzer has focused primarily on tropical vines at this point.

Bruce Allen

While my recall is imperfect, I believe I recall numbers like 280' plus on the height that poison oak climbs up into the coastal redwoods. BVP, have you any numbers on this?


Thanks for the input.  Perhaps you can fill in some of the blanks in the data when I get the Woody Vines listings posted in a few days.  I have read a number of the more popular accounts of your vine research on the web:

Increase In Creeping Vines Signals Major Shift In Southern US Forests
ScienceDaily (July 19, 2007) - A new study of bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern United States suggests that the increased growth of vines may change the landscape of these forests.

Vines Take Over Southern U.S. Forests  By Andrea Thompson, LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 19 July 2007 08:55 am ET

07/17/2007  Increase in Creeping Vines Signals Major Shift in Southern U.S. Forests
Writer:  Holly Wagner

Poison ivy in area is spreading By Rob Pavey| Outdoors Editor
Sunday, January 06, 2008

Do you have copies of your dissertation or more formal papers on your research at Congaree and in Georgia online anywhere where it can be accessed or referenced?  Maybe if you make it to Congaree in February, you can bring copies of some of your vine research materials so that we can add to the measurements rather than duplicate them.

Ed Frank


I didn't come up with those headlines. They routinely got close to half
the fact wrong.  Ohio State asked to do a press release and it
snowballed from there.  SAF did a pretty good story in the Foresty

my dissertation is available online:


Other papers online:



I also wrote:
Allen, B.P., E.F. Pauley, and R.R. Sharitz.  1997.  Hurricane impacts
on liana populations in an old-growth southeastern bottomland forest.
Journal of the Torrey Botanical  Society 124:34-42.

I can send a pdf if you are interested.  I am unlikely to get to the
Congaree in February, I don't accumulate leave very quickly in the new

Bruce Allen


M Vaden, one of the newer ENTS members from the Pacific Northwest has a couple of webpages with photos about Poison oak

He notes: "As a shrub form, poison-oak can be as tall as a small vine maple. As a vine, poison oak can grow over 150 high, and may not have lower stems or leaves. Few vines with smooth bark grow on Pacific NW trees."
Some of his photos include:  (caption) Found this cut poison-oak vine on a fallen tree. Almost 70 growth rings: near 2" in diameter.and (caption) Huge poison oak. 4" diameter trunk: Near 160' tall. This is on Hiouchi Trail: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/forums/showthread.php?p=70998

Not far from Grove of Titans on Hiouchi Trail is a steroids poison-oak near 180' tall with 3" trunk - like a giant Anacoda on a redwood. I estimate 180 years age for that vine. http://www.mdvaden.com/grove_of_titans.shtml

Ed Frank


Uhhmmm I'm sure that mvaden's estimates might be close, but no limiting...I think I'll keep searching my memory, other sources, as 280 sticks in my mind...
Even more strong is the memory traces I have of the poison oaks climbing way up into the coastal redwoods, in the spring and fall, when it positively brightens up the Avenue of the Giants, a normally shaded dark road through a deep dark redwood forest...used to pass through it purposely each quarter, as a forestry student at Humboldt State...absolutely unparalleled in contrast and brilliance, possible equaled by the dogwoods going up steep drainages in the mountains alongside the Smith River (Hiway 199 as it goes from Crescent City to Ashland Oregon).
Those memory traces have lots of associates!~

-Don Bertolette


I have been reading your dissertation Vegetation Dynamics and response to Disturbance, in Floodplain Forest Ecosystems with a Focus on Lianas, The Ohio State University, 2007 by Bruce P. Allen http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/view.cgi?acc_num=osu1179427491 and other articles.  Looking specifically for data on the size of the vines you documented I found this comment:  
  Twenty-eight species of woody vines are known to occur in the CNP, however, only six species of lianas exceed 10 cm in diameter including rattan vine (Berchemia scandens (Hill) K. Koch), trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans (L.) Seemann.), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, (L.) Planchon.), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze.), muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia Michaux.), and Simpson’s grape (V. cinerea var. floridana Munson).
I am wondering if you could provide some specific information on the maximum sizes you fond for the other species of woody vines in Congaree?  It would provide a framework and a beginning point for others to look at woody vines in other areas of the Eastern united States.  The specific data is not provided in the text.

I also found the comments in section 5 on the ages of the vines intriguing.  You wrote:

  As a functional group, lianas may comprise more than 10% of the stems in temperate floodplain forests (Allen et al. 2007), yet little is known about their ecology. The objective of this chapter is to apply dendroecological techniques to better understand the influence of disturbance intensity on liana communities in an old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. Specifically, there are two questions: 1) how long do lianas live in temperate floodplain forests? and 2) how do liana species respond to different types of both natural and anthropogenic disturbance?...

  Maximum age for Toxicodendron was 58 years and 38 years for Campsis (Fig.5.6). Large Campsis stems were prone to heart rot and often had discontinuous cambium producing a lobed or braided appearance (Fig. 5.7). While the largest cored stem was 14.6 cm, stems frequently exceeded 20 cm in diameter with a maximum of 40 cm diameter observed. Large stems were usually hollow, often splitting into many stems.  Toxicodendron was less prone to heart rot or discontinuous cambium, but had a much smaller maximum diameter than Campsis stems. Cored Toxicodendron stems typically reached 10 cm in diameter, while the largest live stem observed reached 13.5 cm dbh. Large stems usually had intact cambium when they died.
You wrote that after coring six different species you decided to concentrate on the trumpet creeper and the poison ivy, two species that had distinct annual rings.  You collected 100 usable cores from each species and even provided the 100 dendrograms for each species in your appendix.  I am wondering if the selection of these two species were because of practical considerations of collecting sufficient numbers of samples within a time frame, or whether the other species lacked distinct enough annual rings to date them well?  I would guess you sampled some of the larger vines of other species before making this determination.  Do you have core sample ages for any other species not included in your dissertation?

You noted that you did not cross-date the cores as this represented only the second sizable study of the ages of lianas in the US.  I am wondering if your did any type of cross-dating analysis within the dataset between your samples?  I see you have described several release episodes in your sample areas.  

Ed Frank


In addition to the six species mentioned, Chinese Wisteria also
approaches 10 cm in the uplands along the park.   The only other
species that had distinct annual rings was cross vine (Bignonia
capriolata) but I rarely found it big enough to core.  Virginia
creeper had semi distinct rings. Grape were impossible to identify
rings from a core although I have seen sheered stem that left distinct
annual rings.

The largest diameter stems I found were:

Pepper vine (Ampelopsis arborea)  7.6 cm dbh  (oldest - ?)
Rattan vine (Berchemia scandens) 12.1 cm (?)
Cross vine (Bignonia capriolata) 4.1 cm (16 yrs)
Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) 40.0 cm  (14.3 cm dbh 38 years old)
I modeled the growth for the 40 cm stem at 62 years based on the ten
fastest growing stems
Climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara) 2.5 cm
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) 11.0 cm
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)  13.1 cm (~28 yrs)
poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) 13.5 cm (7.8 cm 58 yrs)
Florida grape (Vitis cinerea) 24.5 cm
Muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) 12.7 cm
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) ~8.0 cm

I have pictures and gps coordinates for all but the Chinese wisteria.
I put together a poster on vines for the Congaree but never got any
feed back on it. It had pictures of leaves, large examples and cores
along with a little data but it is about 21 mb.

Bruce Allen


Thanks for all the information.  I will post it in the lists.  What did you envision doing with your poster?  Why was it created?  Maybe you could present the information at a conference?  Maybe it could be put out in a smaller format in the ENTS Bulletin with Don's approval.  If you want input on it, there is room to post it temporarily on the Google page in the files section.  Then interested people could download it for comment.  If it is in pdf format I can post it to the website for download (many other formats want to re-upload every time I update the website and 21 MB is just too big to deal with that problem).  

Ed Frank


I'd be happy to consider an article based on this poster for the Bulletin, if Bruce is willing to prepare it...the Bulletin can handle color graphics easily...

Don C. Bragg, Ph.D.
Research Forester
USDA Forest Service
Southern Research Station