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Courtesy photo

Becca Dickstein / Native Root

Jessamine marks end of winter

Spring cannot get here fast enough for me, and the sweet-smelling flowers on Carolina jessamine vines are a harbinger of spring that I am looking forward to.

Unlike some of the other native plants I’ve written about, this one is easy to find in the nursery trade, and it’s a favorite for late winter/early spring bloom in North Texas.

Carolina jessamine usually blooms between February and April, but may bloom as early as December — not this year! — or as late as May. It produces an abundance of 1- to 1.5-inch-long fragrant yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that may cover the vine at the peak of blooming. Subsequently, inch-long small brown fruit appears, bearing seeds.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), also called yellow jessamine and evening trumpetflower, is abundant in the southeastern U.S. and is the state flower of South Carolina. It is a twining vine, growing up to 20 feet tall, and is usually evergreen in North Texas with glossy dark green foliage that may develop a bronze or purple tone in winter. Its lanceolate leaves are 1 to 3 inches long.

It thrives in full sun and partial shade, although it blooms more profusely with more sun. Carolina jessamine is easy to grow as long as it has rich, adequately drained soil and enough water. It will need regular supplemental water when it is grown in North Texas, especially during a typical summer, even after it is established; it will not last through a prolonged drought. It tolerates a range of soil pH, including alkaline soils.

Carolina jessamine is not browsed by deer and usually is not bothered by insects or diseases, but it is also toxic to livestock and people. Its sap may cause skin irritation in people with sensitivities, and children can be poisoned by chewing or sucking on the flowers.

Although usually grown as a vine and used to cascade over mailboxes, trellises and arbors, Carolina jessamine may be grown as a groundcover on hilly banks. It is suitable to grow in a container. After blooming each year, it may be pruned.

Look for the NICE! (Natives Instead of Common Exotics) Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery. Participating nurseries include Four Seasons Nursery, Meador Nursery and Painted Flower Farm, all in Denton; Shades of Green Nursery in Frisco; and Schmitz Garden Center in Flower Mound. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.

BECCA DICKSTEIN, a member of the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, is on the University of North Texas biological sciences faculty.