Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carolina Jessamine

The native Carolina Jessamine is in bloom here. 

Because of its lovely, fragrant flowers, this vine is often called 'Yellow Jasmine', even though it is not a true jasmine. It's botanical name is even Gelsemium sempervirens - 'Gelsemium' being a version of the word 'gelsomino', the Italian name for jasmine.  

Here in North Carolina, one often sees this vine growing wild in the woods, as well as growing up garden trellises and softening up chain-link fences.

This sun-loving vine is said to grow around 15'-20', but I have even seen its bright yellow flowers gracing the tops of very tall trees!  So if you grow it in your garden, give it some room and let it go!  You can prune it fairly heavily to keep it more contained or to rejuvenate older vines - just make sure to prune soon after it flowers in spring, as it blooms on old wood.

 I had this beautiful vine planted on a trellis at my previous house.  I haven't planted it here yet at the Red House Garden, as the flower does have one drawback - it is very toxic to humans and other animals.  Children, mistaking this flower for honeysuckle, have been poisoned by sucking the flower nectar.  It's better safe than sorry since my kids are still little, though they have yet to eat a flower in my garden (dirt, on the other hand, is another story...)

The poisonous alkaloids found in the nectar and other parts of the plant help protect the Jessamine vine, as they deter animals from eating it.  

Interestingly, the nectar from Carolina Jessamine can also be toxic to some non-native bees, such as the honey bee.   According to the NC Cooperative Extension, if they drink enough nectar, they can appear drunk, become paralyzed and die. 

Holey Honeycomb!  I'm not native to America?!  I've been here for so long!
Our native bees find nectar from the Carolina Jessamine less appealing than other flowers, but it doesn't usually affect healthy native bees, and in fact it is possible that it is medicinally beneficial to them by reducing infection of some pathogens. 

Carolina Jessamine is prized as being fairly well-behaved and not usually invasive.  It grows quickly, likes sun but also tolerates part shade, and it's bright yellow flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies.  It blooms profusely in spring and may also have a sparse repeat bloom in fall.  Last but not least, this vine is evergreen here in the south.

Carolina Jessamine in winter
Regular species Carolina Jessamine is truly a southern plant as it is hardy only up to zone 7.  The cultivar 'Margarita' is hardy up to zone 5, though it will not grow quite as large (which can be a plus for smaller gardens!)  One other interesting cultivar is the lesser known 'Pride of Augusta', which is a double blooming selection.   

the doubled flowers of Carolina Jessamine 'Pride of Augusta'
-photo from Clemson Cooperative Extension
Carolina Jessamine does best in fairly rich, well-drained soil.  For a more badly draining area, one can try Swamp Jessamine (Gelsemium rankanii), which is similar, but its flowers are sadly not fragrant.

I love vines, and this native one is truly beautiful.

You just might be destined for my garden, Carolina Jessamine.  I'm sure our paths will cross again..


  1. I had no idea this plant was so toxic. It is commonly planted around here too and is a favorite this time of year. There is one down the street in a neighbor's yard that I couldn't resist photographing a few weeks back. The blooms are just full of spring's promise!

  2. What an impressive vine! It is fascinating that while it is toxic to other bees, it offers some protection from infection to our native bees!

  3. What a great native...interesting that it can be toxic to non-native bees...lovely blooms and I can only imagine the scent.

  4. Great looking vine, I can see why you like it!

  5. I have never planted this, although I see it many places. I had no idea about its poisonous attributes! Good to know.

  6. Indie -- Every time I come here and see these wonderful bee, bird and butterfly photos, I whine to myself, "How does she DO it?" Just fabulous!

  7. Fascinating post! Your photos are lovely and I find it so interesting about the toxicity to honeybees. Lovely yellow! The fragrance around your area must be delicious when it is all in bloom.

  8. Great bee info. I love learning about bee facts. Never would have thought a flowering plant could be toxic to some bees. It really is a voracious grower and gives me an idea about its relative too. I have a potted jasmine here at home and never knew they grew so fast. I am not sure what to do with it now, other than prune, prune, prune.

  9. Huh... I had been trying to figure out why a handful of my bees have been stumbling around, partially paralyzed. Maybe they got into the jessamine which is blooming here right now, too.


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