Snail vine is a flower that even children can grow
They are the terror of the garden with the most teeth of any animal. Even though a snail’s mouth is the size of a pinhead, it can have up to 20,000 teeth. And though they look delicate, garden snails can crawl over an edge of a razor blade without getting cut.
So why invite these pests into the garden? What if the snail in the garden isn't a snail at all, and instead is a vine with flowers that look like snails?
The snail vine (Cochliasanthus caracalla) is a flower that even children can grow. Also called the “corkscrew vine,” it will reward you with hundreds of fragrant, spirally twisted flowers that begin as white then slowly turn to a light lilac, and finally end as cream-colored, snail-shaped flowers. The vine is quite lush with smooth, deep-green leaves, so it is attractive even before it blooms.
Snail vine seeds have a hard seed coat that can make germination difficult, so nick the seeds or slightly sand them to break the hard coating. Soak the seeds overnight in warm water before planting. Plant your snail vine in full sun in rich, well-drained soil. Plant the seeds an inch deep and a few feet apart. As if by magic, in just six weeks your vine will burst into bloom, and keep blooming until killed by hard frost.
This is a plant that loves the heat, so it does well in scorching-hot summers. It takes a lot of energy to grow into such a long vine in so short a time, so keep the plant well watered. Be prepared to have something for the vines to climb on, whether a trellis, a fence or up a tree. The vines can reach up to 25 feet long, but you can trim them shorter if you like. In fact, if you cut the growing tips of the vine, it will bloom even more.
Seeds are available at nurseries, garden centers and by mail from specialty seed companies such as Baker Creek Seeds (www.rareseeds.com or phone 417-924-8917).
Snail vine is a tender perennial, hardy in USDA zones 9-10, but usually we grow it as an annual and replant it every year.
Not only is this vine attractive to humans, but it will also bring scores of pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.. Once it has reached the extent of the area that you want it to cover, cut the leaves and tendrils back, and it will flower profusely. As long as the tendrils are running, it won't set much flower.
Plant snail vine in your garden or along a fence and you will be rewarded with flowers that smell remarkably like hyacinths. The corkscrew flowers are nonstop from summer into the fall, and as legumes, the vines even add nitrogen to your soil. Best of all you can plant this snail vine, water it and forget it, with no rush to tend. Perfect if during the summer heat you tend to move at a snail's pace.