Thursday, June 14, 2012


On long evenings when the light lingers, I remember other summers. The courthouse square was the heart of the town where I grew up: a squat brick building surrounded by a fieldstone wall. Brick streets separated the square from rows of shops, the bank, tavern, drug store, Oddfellows hall, pool parlor and county jail.

There were concerts in the bandstand most Saturday evenings. The grown-ups sat on folding chairs or brought blankets to spread on the lawn. The kids ran around the square on top of the wall, some of them jumping off onto the grass verge from the highest spots. Going all the way around the square on the wall was a challenge. You had to jump over stairways on three sides. An access driveway too wide to jump cut through the east side, so the races usually began and finished there.

At the southwest corner, trumpet creeper vines overwhelmed the wall. I don’t know how old I was when my dad first helped me pluck the bright orange blossoms and put them on my fingers. Getting the fit just right was tricky, especially for little hands. They needed to be snug enough to wave in the air while cackling. One of the hazards of running the courthouse wall was the witchfinger kids lying in wait. If a witch tagged you with an orange claw, you had to start the wall run over.

I usually went home with pollen-stained fingertips. (I don’t recall any ill effects, although I understand that some people have allergic reactions to the plant.) There never seemed to be a lack of flowers, even with kids picking them by the handful. By the next Saturday, the vines were always loaded again.

In my yard, Campsis radicans swarms up an old swing set, waving fronds and fingers above the garden. Also called hummingbird vine, it provides shelter for a feeder. The hummers ignore my sugar water offering once the witchfingers begin to bloom. They buzz bomb the walk beside the vine to assert their territory, swooping down and up in the swift arc of skateboarders.

Friends have asked me why I intentionally planted an invasive vine. Some invasives are more easily controlled in low light. My woods do not allow much competition from cultivated species. The trumpet creeper climbs between a large cedar and a mature hedge tree, surrounded by native hackberry. In so much shade, it has to stretch for the light. The last rays of the midsummer sun illumine flaming bunches of witchfingers. It wouldn’t be summer without them.


  1. Wish I would have known about witch fingers when I was a kid. We called them trumpet vine. Next time I have any of the grandkids anywhere near one, I will show them the witch fingers (maybe I will call them ogre fingers or something, no need to malign the witches). I am afraid to grow trumpet vine here, it might take over everything.

  2. I have heard that they can by controlled by deadheading (and/or picking off all the seed pods) and mowing around them faithfully.