Climbers and creepers

Botanically, plants, which have special structure to climb on supports, are defined as climber. Climbers are very important ornamental plants and the beauty of any garden can be greatly increased by carefully selecting and planting them in a suitable place. The growth habit and mass of colour give charming appearance. Climbers are very commonly used on arches and pergolas but in cities their utility enhanced for the purpose of screening the premises from adjacent houses and maintaining privacy. Bare walls can be most effectively decorated by growing colourful climbers on it. Fences and trellis also provide scope for the beautiful climbers to grow and display. It is often felt that among the various types of ornamental plants least interest is taken on climbers and only few species or varieties are found growing in a locality. Even a good amateur gardener seldom knows more than a dozen climbers do and practical information regarding a large number of these plants are not readily available. Attempts have been made to include description of plants of horticultural interest and their utility and practical hits on cultivation of a large number of climbers suitable for tropical gardens. Another type of climbing plants grow spirally around another plant or support and do not possess tendrils, rootlets, shoots or thorn. These are known as twiners e.g., Echites, Chonemorpha, Clerodendron. Creepers cannot grow vertically on their own e.g., Morning Glory. All these types of plants are commonly known as climbers. Most of the flowering climbers require full sun for growth and flowering; few climbers, however, grow well in shade and flower e.g., Thunbergia grandiflora, Clerodendron splendens, Jacquemontia violacea, Asparagus racemosus, Scindapsus, Philodendrons, Monstera deliciosa, Syngonium, Cissus discolor are grown for beautiful foliage in shade or partial shade.

Scindapsus (Pothos) are the most popular climber in shade and when grown on tree trunk, the leaves grow large with very attractive shades of green and yellow. Philodendrons are also grown on tree trunks in shady places. Ficus repens (Indian ivy) is the most popular and widely grown plant for covering bare walls or pedestrals. No support is needed as the roots from the node grip the walls.

Climbers which grow quickly and cover the space thickly are mostly used for this purpose. Railway creeper (Ipomoea palmata), Antigonon and Vernonia are commonly selected. Vermonia has neat growth but the flowers are not showy. Some heavy climbers with colourful bloom can be recommended. These are Clerodendron splendens, Derris scandens, Thumbergia, Adenocalymna calycina, Passiflora, Bignonia gracilis, Rhyncospermum, Bougainvillea, Ficus stipulata is also an ideal climber for screening shady place. Jacquemontia is a light flowering climber used for this purpose.

Ideal climbers for pergola

Quisqualis, Poiveria densiflorum, Banisteria laurifolia, Derris scandens, Clerodendron splendens, Petrea volubilis, Pyrostegia venusta, P. purpurea, Adenocalymna calycina, Bougainvillea.

Annual climber

Important annual climbers are sweet pea and heavenly blue morning glory (Ipomea coerulea), Mina lobata with yellow and orange red spikes and Quamoclit vulgaris with white, pink and red flowers are also popular annual climbers. Thunbergia alata, (Black Eyed Susan) in white, pale and deep yellow with and without the dark eye are perennial but often grown as annual. Blue flowers are very common but white and mauve colours are also seen; the double blue flowering variety is the best.

Climbers for pot culture

For growing climbers in pots, light climbers or those with bushy growth should be selected. Climbers should be planted in large pots (20-30cm) and given suitable support to allow the plant to grow. Among the perennial climbers Clematis flammula, Bignonia purpurea, should be selected for pot cultivation. Bougainvilleas in pots are usually treated as shrubs.


Loamy soil with good drainage suits well to most of the climbers. Decayed cow or stable manure or leaf mould should be incorporated in the soil of the pit about 50cm in depth and diameter in case of large and heavy climbers. For light climber, the pit may be 30cm deep and 25 cm in diameter. Bone meal and leafmould show very good result if cow-manure is not available. Distance of planting depends on the species or variety and the purpose for which the climbers are used. Quick growing heavy climbers are planted at a distance of 3m for screening, while light climbers for the same purpose may be grown at 1m. To cover fences or walls closer planting is recommended. Vernonia and ficus repens are planted at a distance of 15-30cm.

As the climbers do not grow erect without support, main stem and the branches should be tied up with the support. This helps to grow and cover the space quickly. Like other perennial plants planting of climbers can be done any time of the year early monsoon is the best. Manuring encourages growth and flowering of climbers. Bone meal or hoof and horn once or twice in the monsoon will be beneficial to the plants.

Selection of Climbers

There are different situations in the garden like sunny, partial shade and different structures according to which suitable type can be selected from an available wide choice. The climbers for different situation are as follows:

  • For sunny situation:

Phyrostegia venusta, Quisqualis indica, Antigonon leptopus, Adenocalymma alliaceum, Bougainvillea sp., Campsis grandiflora etc.

  • For Partial shade

Clerodendron splendens, Petrea volubilis, Lonicera japonica, Trachalospermum jasminoides.

  • Heavy climbers

These climbers produce luxuriant vegetative growth and grow very vigorously. They cover large area and are suitable for covering bigger area e.g. Antigonon leptopus, Bignonia magnifica, Beaumontia grandiflora, Bougainvillea sp., Hiptage benghalensis, Quisqualis indica, Wisteria sinensis Pyrostegia venusta, Clerodendron splendens.

  • Light climbers

These climbers make sparse vegetative growth and remain light in spread. These climbers are suitable for limited spaces e.g. Lonicera japonica, Trachelospermum jasmenoides, Clitoria ternatea.

  • Climbers for fragrant flowers

Jasminum grandiflorum, L. officinale, Trachelospermum jasminoides, hiptage benghalensis, Clematic penniculata.

  • Climbers for pots

Bougainvillea, Clitoria ternatea.

  • Making hedge

Clerodendron inerme and Bougaivillea.

  • Indoor decoration

Shade loving climbers like Pothos, Monstera deliciosa, Philodendron sp., Asparagus sp., etc can be grown in pots and can be kept indoor also.

  • For screening

Vernonia elegnaefolia, Pyrostegia venusta.

  • Annual climbers

There are climbers, which are seasonal in nature and can be grown temporarily. E.g. sweet pea, trailing nasturtium. There are woody climbers, which can also be grown as annual like Ipomea lobata, Clitoria ternatea.

Clematis flammula (Ranunculaceae)

A slender low-growing climber. Leaves usually bipinnate dark green, often trifoliate; leaflets narrowly lanceolate entire, glabrous 1.3 to 3.2 cm long. Flowers very fragrant, small 1.9 to 2.5 cm across pure white in loose panicle upto 20-30cm long, Sepals 4-linear oblong.

Clematis flammula has less growth but flowers heavily on large panicles in the early rains. It is ideal for small gardens on low walls or wire nettings. It likes porous soil and partial shade. Propagation by layering.

Ipomoea palmata, Railway creeper

A perennial vigorous climber. Leaves 5.0 to 7.6cm in diameter, cut nearly to the base 5 to 7 lobes, entire, elliptic or lanceolate. Flowers purple, 5.0 to 6.3cm across often 3 flowered cyme. Corolla campanulate, colour deeper in the throat.

Ipomoea purpurea, Common morning glory

It is also a quick-growing climber. Leaves entire, ovatecordate, 7.6 to 12.7cm long pubsecent on both surfaces. Flowers large funnel shaped, few on axillary peduncles, about 6.3 to 7.6cm across, white, pale blue or purple.

Passiflora coerulea (Passifloraceae)

A vigorous climber. Stipule leafy, cordate, toothed. Leaves divided nearly to the petiole into 5 lanceolate or lance-elliptic segments 10.2 to 16.2cm across. Flowers solitary, large 7.6cm across, axillary. Bracts large ovate-cordate about 2.5cm in length. Petals 5 oblong-obtuse, pale pink in colour. Corona 5.0cm across, otuer filaments blue at top, white in the middle and purple at base.

Passiflora deulis

Woody, strong and spreading climber. Stem angular slightly downy or glabrous. Tendrils axillary, long simple. Leaves alternate large. 10.2 to 12.7cm long and wide deeply 3 lobed. Lobes ovate, glandular, toothed. Flowers solitary terminal or axillary, 3 leafy bracts, 5 lobed greenish with short crown. Petals 5 about 2cm long, oblong white often tinted with purple. Corona in several rows white in the upper half violet or purple below. Fruit globular, oblong, thickly pruple dotted.

Pyrostegia purpurea

An evergreen climber. Leaves compound, leaflets 3 ovate to ovate-oblong about 5.0 to 7.6cm long mostly toothed bright green above paler beneath. Flowers 4 to 10 rosy purple in axillary cyme. Corolla funnel shaped about 5.0cm long, lobes 5 spreading about 6cm across.

This ideal climber produces flowers in large bunches 6 to 8 times a year in the summer and rains and rains and should be grown on trellis or low walls. Propagated from layers.

Thunbergia laurifolia

A shrubby climber. Stem terets, smooth except when young. Leaves opposite, ovate, oblong – lanceolate rounded at the base, entire or slightly toothed, 15cm long about 6.3cm wide. Flowers borne in axillary or terminal raceme. Corolla tube cylindrical, swelling above, cunnel-shaped with spreading large 5 lobed limb about 6.3cm across pale blue, white or yellow in the throat.