Beautiful vine strings along impatient gardener

Erin Schanen


As is common at this time of year, the racks of plants under otherworldly LED lights in my basement are getting increasingly full, and plants really have to prove their worth to earn treasured real estate. Right now, there is one plant in particular that is squatting on a lot of space. If it weren’t for the hope of what may come, it would have met the compost pile a long time ago.

Purple bell vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineus) is one of a handful of annual vines with tropical origins that I grow. They are the biggest bang you can get for your seed buck, putting on unbelievable amounts of growth in a short time. Most don’t start growing well here until late June when temperatures are reliably on the hot side of warm. Most of them ask only for a sunny spot, regular moisture and healthy doses of fertilizer.

I grew purple bell vine on a whim last year. I had never seen it in person, but I love trying out new seed-grown vines. It ended up being my favorite new addition to the garden.

I planted it in each of a pair of pots on the deck, which get plenty of eastern and southern light for a good part of the day but is in full shade by mid-afternoon. It’s a borderline sun situation for a lot of these sun and heat-loving vines. Nonetheless, it quickly started climbing up the string trellis I constructed for it and then, when it got to the top, it started coming back down, demonstrating that it would be well-suited to life in a hanging basket.

It was also one of the first vines to flower, but I will admit, I wasn’t fully prepared for the appearance of the flowers when they emerge, which is a bit scandalous. In time, the downward-facing blooms develop almost black clapper flowers dangling from a purple bell. Even better, the small leaves allow the flowers to remain the star, unlike other tropical vines where large leaves can obscure the blooms.

I was smitten and determined to grow much more of it for this year. I planted the seeds in pots about five weeks ago now and they’ve been enjoying the warmth of a heat mat and glow of the lights since. And so far there is nothing happening. I know that because I checked this morning as I have twice a day, every day for more than 35 days. One of the less-than-charming characteristics of purple bell vine is that germination occurs between two and six or more weeks. In fact, it took so long last year that I forgot all about it and turned around one day and found it growing on the back of a shelf.

This year I’m relying on it for several container designs and it continues to torture me. I’m not going to lie, I’m getting a bit nervous. Like a watched pot, it might be better if I stop checking on it constantly. But if you hear a loud cheer come from an Ozaukee County basement, it might just be me, celebrating, finally, the germination of the purple bell vine.



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