• ljmarkson

Native Climbing Boneset is Loved By Pollinators!

My #3 September native plant pick is a rambling perennial vine I've only noticed growing at a nearby nature park in my intown Atlanta neighborhood. It is called climbing boneset yet is is in the aster family and not related to boneset.

Similar flowers and wasps! It is easy to see why one of the common names for mikania scandens is climbing boneset.

It is also called climbing hempvine but has nothing to do with cannibis. I couldn’t find a source, but the hemp in the name, but think it may have come from the vine being used as a natural fiber source at one time. It has also been used for a range of medicinal purposes. It has analgesic properties and earned the name louse-plaster because the Seminoles used it treat itchy skin.


The botanical name is mikania scandens. There is a slight chance this one is mikania cordifolia. My plant identification app Picture This identifies it is scandens. It is growing in a wet area at the edge of a bottomland forest in Atlanta so it is more likely scandens (any experts who can confirm are always welcome to chime in).

Climbing boneset is growing all over this damp bottomland area at a nearby nature park. It doesn't seem to be bothering the plants it is wandering through and over.

This is a vigorous vine that can form dense thickets and scramble over and cover other vegetation. It grows 8-10 feet and spreads by seed. It has an alleopathic effect on other plants around it which might not be a bad thing if it is growing through invasive plants. Multiple sources indicate climbing boneset is used as a cultivated a cover crop and for livestock to eat although I can’t find seed or plant sources for it. It would be a good vine to let scramble horizontally as a groundcover in challenging wet areas, rain gardens, restoration areas or in naturescaped residential areas. It isn’t a vine to put around a mailbox or flower bed though!

It looks like the trellis provided a perfect structure for the climbing boneset to wander through. It couldn't look any prettier if it was planted there!

Climbing hempvine’s range is the eastern United States and seems to be a friend or foe depending on where you live. It is a native plant to the lower 48 states of North America and considered endangered in Indiana and threatened in New Hampshire. It is considered a noxious weed in Hawaii, but there is evidence this may be a case of mistaken identity. There is an invasive species related to climbing hempvine called mile-a-minute (mikania micrantha) that looks almost exactly like it and may be what is growing in Hawaii.

Pollinators, including bees, wasps, beetles, flies, and butterflies seem to like the clusters of tiny tubular pink-tinged white flowers. Every time I visit this vine it is abuzz with tiny visitors! I'm always fascinated to see ants on native plants and this one is no exception. It is also the host plant for the little metal mark butterfly which has a range more in the southeastern coast than inland.

No wonder there are so many pollinators on the climbing boneset. Just look at the full pollen baskets on this bumblebee!

Climbing boneset blooms from mid-summer through fall which would make it a valuable addition to a naturalized pollinator garden in an area where its, uh, exuberance is welcome.

Carpenter bees are just one of the many different pollinators I see on the climbing boneset

As naturescaping with native plants becomes more popular, I hope we also see this long blooming, ornamental and pollinator friendly, hardy vine available to buy as a native plant option for covering difficult, damp areas. If we do, the pollinators will follow wherever it is planted!

Pearl cresent butterflies seem to love climbing boneset. These two were having a little butterfly party!

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