In its native habitat, cardinal creeper flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.
In its native habitat, cardinal creeper flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. NNehring

Train this tropical variety to make archway statement

Climbing plants can be mighty useful in a garden. You can use them to cover unsightly things or train them over an archway to create a dramatic entrance or over a pergola to create dappled shade.

When it comes to climbers, there are the favourites - jasmine, passionfruit and bougainvillea - all proven performers in our climate. But then there are some others, just as easy to grow, but perhaps even more striking because they are a bit more unusual.

One special climbing plant to look for now is the cardinal creeper (ipomea horsfalliae). It is native to South America and the Caribbean, and grows really well in Queensland and northern NSW. It loves our tropical/sub-tropical climate.

The very glossy, dark green foliage contrasts superbly with the clusters of gorgeous ruby red/crimson flowers from summer through to winter. The buds are lovely, too, reminding me of dark, almost black, berries. The flowers contain nectar that is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

In its native habitat, the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. Here in Australia, with no hummingbirds and apparently no other birds or insects taking on that pollination role, propagation is usually by cutting. It is not easy, and that is why this plant is not widely available. But, though the propagation process is tricky, the plant is really easy to grow.

It prefers a warm, sunny position. Being a tropical climber, it will not tolerate frost.

It climbs by twining its way around the support structure, and reaches a height of several metres if the support is there. It also looks spectacular grown over a fence or a railing, where a single plant will twine its way along several metres.

It develops a tuberous root system, so is best in the ground. If you want to keep it in a pot, I would recommend something quite large.

This tuberous root system makes it quite drought tolerant, although it will always look better if you make sure it receives adequate water and fertiliser.

Cardinal creeper will grow in full sun or semi-shade, and looks superb when in full bloom. But the foliage is beautiful in its own right, so it looks good all year.

It's not bothered by any particular pests or diseases, so it doesn't need much maintenance other than training it to grow where you want it, and a pruning after flowering if required.

Got a gardening question? Email maree@edenatbyron.com.au