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Snail Vine

An Introduction to the Exotic and Fragrant Snail Vine, AKA Corkscrew Vine

Vigna caracalla, phaseolus caracalla, and phaseolus gigantea are all names for the snail vine (sometimes called corkscrew vine), a native plant of tropical regions of America.  It looks similar to a bean pole, with fragrant flowers in shades of purple, pink, yellow or cream, blooming from summer all the way through fall.  This vine gets its name from the flower form which spirals like a snail shell.

In zones 12 to 24 and Hawaii, the pretty snail vine is a perennial or evergreen, and it grows as an annual everywhere else. This plant needs full sun and regular watering. However, do not let it sit in water because it is prone to rot if too moist.  The vine will quickly shoot up ten to twenty feet.  It makes a great arbor, fence or bank cover.  If you don’t keep it reigned in this vine can knock down even a strong fence.  If you are planning for it to be a fence cover, position plants ten feet apart along the base of your fence.

The snail vine is usually started from seeds. You may need to order seeds from a garden supplier, as they are hard to find in some regions.  Start them in early spring, indoors or in a greenhouse.  To start seeds, clip a bit from the part of the seed that was attached to the plant, and place in a glass jar with paper towel soaked in water. Once they are well rooted and about 8 inches high, plant outdoors in containers. Before transplanting, make certain that temperatures will not drop below 45 degrees. If you live in zones 9 or lower, growing in containers will allow you to move them inside in winter and return to the outdoors after temperatures rise.  An option if you don’t want to use containers is to dig them up and overwinter indoors. They will be dormant but will reemerge in spring.

If your snail vine gets rangy looking, becomes infested with aphids, or does not perform well the second year, or any time after established, you can dig it up and plant it in a new spot. Do this in warm weather, and it will usually come back strong, and very rapidly. 

It is well worth it to uproot and replant this vine.  The flowers are exquisite and very unique, anything but common.  Remember, although the snail vine is of tropical origin it will grow anywhere as an annual, even in Washington D.C.  There is a fantastic snail vine growing near D.C.’s historic National Cathedral, at the entrance to the Herb Cottage Gift Shop. 

If you get a chance to visit Washington D.C., this spot is worth a visit.  In addition to the wonderful aroma and beauty of the snail vine, you can see dozens of lush garden beds, lovingly tended, full of plentiful blooms in the surrounding Bishops Garden. A visit to the D.C. land mark will surely inspire you to try new things in your own yard.  And you can visit the National Cathedral too, an amazing example of historic architecture.



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