Carolina Jessamine: Vine of the South

Carlonia Jessamine is a lovely addition to any landscape. Photo credit – Garden of Tomorrow.

Carolina Jessamine: Vine of the South. Carolina Jessamine or the Vine of the South is commonly found in the Smoky Mountain region and is a great plant for the local landscape.                            

What is it?  Seen spilling over fences and arbors and trailing along woodland margins, the Carolina jessamine, state flower of South Carolina, may justifiably be called the vine of the South, for it is the most prominent ornamental vining plant cultivated in the Southeast that is also a native plant. It brightens gardens and landscapes with its intensely yellow trumpet-shaped flowers from late spring through the summer.  More widespread than its Asian transplant rivals, wisteria and clematis, it flourishes southward from Virginia to Florida and westward to east Texas, loving this region’s summer heat and humidity as well as its mild winters.  It is known by a variety of names—Carolina jasmine, evening trumpet flower, and woodbine—but the scientific name, gelsemium sempervirens, captures one of its most distinguishing and useful features:  its leaves are evergreen (i.e. sempervirens).  The gelsemium designation, however, indicates much less favorable trait:  the plant is toxic to human beings.

Where does it grow?  This plant is hardy in USDA zones 7-9 in the United States, but its range extends well into Central America.  It consists of strong twining bronze-colored stems that can reach upward or outward 20 feet or more with a spread of up to 8 feet.  Its deep green leaves are thin, lustrous, spear-shaped, and evergreen, although both the leaves and stems darken in color during the winter.  In the late spring the vine produces medium-sized trumpet –shaped flowers, rather like those of Asiatic lilies, which are intensely yellow and very fragrant.  Blooming continues until mid-summer when the plant begins to conserve energy to survive the drier, hotter months.  (Growers have also produced white, crimson, and pink flowered varieties.)  The plant’s strong deep root system adapts well to the heavy Southern clay soil, allowing the plant to tolerate the region’s hot, dry summers.  It also tolerates some shade but prefers full sun, except along the roots.

What is it used for?  Carolina jessamine is typically used as a climbing vine to decorate trellises, arbors, fences, and walls, but can serve as a hedge as well if supported.  Where no vertical support is available, it can also become an aggressive groundcover on sunny hillsides.  For gardeners who wish to feature native or historical plants, the Carolina jessamine is the perfect choice for a vertical highlight just as it has been in Southern gardens since the colonial period.

How to cultivate it.  Carolina jessamine can be grown readily from stem cuttings or seeds taken from existing plants.  Once the yellow flowers are spent, seed pods form in their place and gradually open to expose the seeds.  The pods can then be clipped from the vine and air-dried for several days to ensure the moisture is gone before storage.  (For storage, a small pouch made of aluminum foil works well. Once the seeds are enclosed, the pouch can then be placed in a plastic zip bag, the bag then labelled and stored.)  In late February the seeds can be started indoors in peat pots kept is a sunny spot and frequently watered before transplanting to the garden once the soil is thoroughly warmed, typically in May.  Care should be taken to shade and mulch the roots, however, as jessamine, like clematis, prefers its roots to be relatively cool.  Finally, the plant can be pruned throughout the growing season in order to improve its appearance and maintain its conformance to arbors, trellises, and pergolas.

Toxicity:  ALL PARTS OF CAROLINA JESSAMINE ARE TOXIC TO HUMAN BEINGS because it contains a substance known as gelsemine—a complex alkaloid related to strychnine.  The sap can cause minor skin irritation, so gardeners working with this plant should always wear gloves and long sleeves.  More importantly, children can easily mistake jessamine’s trumpet-like flowers for honeysuckle and poison themselves by ingesting the flowers or nectar.  This circumstance requires immediate medical care.  Butterflies and hummingbirds, however, are readily attracted to the plant and suffer no harm.

Unfortunately, the Carolina Jessamine’s toxicity is not limited to human beings.  It also appears to be toxic for the non-native honeybee, while not so for the bumblebee and other native osmia bees, which have learned to avoid it.  Honeybees ingesting the vine’s alkaloid nectar become disoriented and eventually die.  While Carolina jessamine is not a contributor to honeybee colony collapse, it is not a good ideal to locate bee hives near to it.

HeySmokies would like to welcome our new contributing writer Carl Parsons. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.

More Hey Smokies Features:

Make your fortune in Smoky Mountain-opoly!
Make your fortune in Smoky Mountain-opoly!...
Make your fortune in Smoky Mountain-opoly! Relay for Life of Sevier County acquired exclusive rights to create a Smoky Mountain version of the b[Read More >>]
Celebrating Fall During Ober Gatlinburg's 8th Annual Oktoberfest September 22, - October  29, 2017
Celebrating Fall During Ober Gatlinburg's 8th Annual Oktoberfest September 22, - October 29, 2017...
Celebrating Fall During Ober Gatlinburg's 8th Annual Oktoberfest September 22, - October 29, 2017 will be a "beery" good time! Take an amazing s[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove...
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mo[Read More >>]
4th Annual Wears Valley Fall Festival October 20th-22nd, 2017
4th Annual Wears Valley Fall Festival October 20th-22nd, 2017...
4th Annual Wears Valley Fall Festival is fun for the entire family! Sixteen acres of family fun including crafters, storytelling, interactive ac[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Ironweed
Smoky Mountain Ironweed...
Smoky Mountain Ironweed is a beautiful flowering plant commonly found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If a hike takes you through a [Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration...
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration is an annual event. Monarch butterflies migrate south each summer and spend their winter hibernating in parts o[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Solar Eclipse Tips
Smoky Mountain Solar Eclipse Tips...
Smoky Mountain Solar eclipse tips. The HeySmokies team is excited about the upcoming solar eclipse viewing in Great Smoky Mountains National Par[Read More >>]
Cades Cove Foot Race
Cades Cove Foot Race...
Cades Cove Foot Race (AKA - the Cades Cove Loop Lope) hosted by Friends of the Smokies and the Knoxville Track Club is scheduled for Sunday Nove[Read More >>]
Welcome Home Veterans Parade, Pigeon Forge August 26, 2017
Welcome Home Veterans Parade, Pigeon Forge August 26, 2017...
Welcome Home Veterans Parade, Pigeon Forge August 26, 2017. Who does not love a parade? And what better reason to have one than to honor our e[Read More >>]
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018!
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018!...
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018! A spectacular display by the Synchronous Fireflies and the Blue Ghost Fireflies will light[Read More >>]
Tick Safety Tips!
Tick Safety Tips!...
Tick Safety Tips! Ticks and what you need to know to stay safe! It is that time of year in the Smoky Mountains. Summertime and outdoor activitie[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains Solar Eclipse Road Closure Update
Great Smoky Mountains Solar Eclipse Road Closure Update...
Great Smoky Mountains solar eclipse road closure update. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are reminding visitors that Clingmans[Read More >>]
Grainger County Tomato Festival 2017
Grainger County Tomato Festival 2017...
Grainger County Tomato Festival 2017 at 7480 Rutledge Pike, Rutledge, TN is scheduled for Friday July 28 through Sunday July 30, 2017. The festi[Read More >>]
July 4, 2017 Free Fishing Day In North Carolina!
July 4, 2017 Free Fishing Day In North Carolina!...
July 4, 2017 Free Fishing Day In North Carolina! This coming Tuesday will be free fishing day throughout North Carolina. Beginning at 12:01 [Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain July 4th Fun!
Smoky Mountain July 4th Fun!...
Smoky Mountain July 4th Fun! Join us in the Smokies for a family-friendly, mind-boggling day of patriotic fun on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, as w[Read More >>]
The Annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival
The Annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival...
  The Annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival will be held Saturday-Sunday, June 17-18 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Roan Mountain State Park,[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities!
Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities!...
 Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities! Ten ways to celebrate Father’s Day in The Great Smoky Mountains Sunday, June 18, 2017. The Great Smo[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains National Park "Womens Work" Day Saturday, June 17, 2017
Great Smoky Mountains National Park "Womens Work" Day Saturday, June 17, 2017...
Great Smoky Mountains National Park "Womens Work" Day Saturday, June 17, 2017. On Saturday, June 17, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will ho[Read More >>]
Art sale to benefit Wears Valley Ranch Saturday June 10, 2017
Art sale to benefit Wears Valley Ranch Saturday June 10, 2017...
Art sale to benefit Wears Valley Ranch Saturday June 10, 2017. Local artisans and residents of Wears Valley Ranch will offer unique crafts a[Read More >>]
HeySmokies.com blog owner puts spare change to good use!
HeySmokies.com blog owner puts spare change to good use!...
HeySmokies.com blog owner puts spare change to good use! Brad Knight, the owner of HeySmokies.com recently presented Pets Without Parents a dona[Read More >>]