This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea*) is a fast growing, deciduous perennial with use as a ground cover or it can be trained to cover a trellis or fence. I purchased my first peppervine at a local native plant nursery here in Central Florida. I was looking for something tolerant of moist (sometimes too moist, as in temporarily flooded) location that would grow fast to cover my fence. It is a member of the grape family (Vitaceae) and while I have grapevines weaving their way on the opposite fence, I like to have a greater variety of plants to see if I can attract additional wildlife species.
Peppervine has aesthetic interest, in that the leaves provide wonderful color, starting off red like a red maple and slowing changing over to a rich, dark, shiny green as they unfurl.
The berries also provide a colorful palette changing from green to whitish to nearly hot pink and finally settling in, once ripe, as a purplish black.
Native to the Southeast zones 7-9 it benefits wildlife such as songbirds and small critters who eat the fruits. The leaves are browsed by deer. Since my vine has expanded nicely this year, I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that this past week I found the first evidence of deer in my yard since I moved here back in 2006.
My personal observations find that peppervine in bloom is a magnet for various pollinating insects, so birds and mammals aren’t the only ones that benefit from its presence. My vines are full of buzzing and crawling activity especially in July and August. There are bees and wasps, including Tiphiid Wasps and thread-waisted wasps, assassin bugs, delta scarab beetles, and tiny flies. Pollinator heaven!
Peppervine fruit is said to be edible raw or cooked, and has been reported as sweet, but not particularly tasty. With the potential for gastric upset it is probably best left to the wildlife. I also found indications that the berries are poisonous.
Flowers are either male or female, but both sexes are found on the same plant unlike my grapevines that require two separate vines. As an aside, it seems that I am blessed (NOT) with mostly male grapevines leaving the fruiting females somewhat scarce. Although sad about this fact from a species feeding standpoint, I do make good use of the male vines at this time of year when I cut them back to keep them in check and weave the cut lengths into grapevine wreaths. Last year I made about 100 wreaths for an outreach program where the kids got to decorate them for the holidays. Now, I have my peppervines to provide food for the wildlife and grapevines to provide materials for kids’ crafts projects. Everybody is happy!
Peppervine is not for all gardens. It has a vigorous, somewhat, aggressive growth so it is not for the small garden unless you work at keeping it in bounds. With it finally established, my recent experience has found that it can pop up in some unintended spots but I am lucky enough to just be able to train it backwards into a unplanted wild area next to the fence I am attempting to cover. If it finds its way forward, that is in a mowed pathway and so the mower will quickly keep it in check.
If you live in the right growing zone and have the room, peppervine is definitely something to consider since it is one plant that will draw in and provide for the wildlife!