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Growing Cochliasanthus caracalla (Corkscrew Vine)

Category Flowers
Corkscrew Vine flower
This beautiful flowering vine originates from Central and South America. The distinctive flowers have a fragrance similar to a hyacinth. This is a guide about growing Cochliasanthus caracalla (corkscrew vine).


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August 19, 2016

This vine has the common names, corkscrew vine and snail vine, among others. These two names are rather suitable as the plant bloom is a bit reminiscent of either. However, the corkscrew vine and the snail vine are actually two different plants. The corkscrew vine being 'Cochliasanthus caracalla', and the snail vine being 'Phaseolus giganteus'.


The plant's botanical name is in question. We do know the plant is in the Fabaceae (bean) family. Taxonomists like to move it in and out of the genus, Vigna.

For now, I will settle for the name, Cochliasanthus caracalla. Cochlia referring to the bloom structure resembling an inner ear structure, the cochlea, and 'caracalla' being derived from the Portuguese 'caracol', meaning snail. 'Caracalla' is easy to say, remember and spell, and since no other plant has this name, it will be my choice of names for this plant. It is said that Thomas Jefferson called the Caracalla, 'The most beautiful bean in the world'.

The Caracalla originates from Central and South America. The often twelve inch clusters of flowers have a fragrance not unlike that of the hyacinth. The vine is said to reach a length of twenty-five feet. The plants I am growing are young, just beginning to bloom, and they have far surpassed that length.

This is my first time to grow Caracalla. The cost of the seed was prohibitive. I did yield to that cost, this year. The final cost for five seeds was about eleven dollars.

Seedsmen 'justify' that cost by reporting the 'rarity' of the seed. The truth is, one seed could easily produce hundreds of seeds. The seed are by no means 'rare'. Later this season, I expect to harvest many more seed than I could ever use. These seeds will be available for free to anyone who should want them.

The pictured bloom is just a few days old. The colors and configuration of the bloom change as it matures. I hope to be adding more pictures to this post as more blooms and clusters of blooms, develop.

This vine can be rooted from cuttings. This is good. I plan to take a cutting and grow it in a pot. I want to see how well it responds to heavy pruning. If it grows and blooms well as a potted plant, I may choose to always grow them that way, because....

I have nowhere to hang my clothes to dry. I have four clotheslines about 25 feet each. These four plants have overtaken all the lines. A small sacrifice, really, though. When that 100 feet are completely covered with 12 inch clusters of beautiful flowers emitting a heavy hyacinth odor, I will be glad to hang my clothes on a nearby tree.

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September 21, 2016

ThriftyFun's slogan is 'ThriftyFun is powered by your wisdom!

My tip: Share that wisdom (and/or knowledge).

I saw an ad on eBay for 10 fresh caracalla seed. The price was $5.00 and shipping was free. I think that's a pretty good deal. I ordered the seed.

I am hoping my vines will make their own seed, but it's getting late in the season and they haven't started, yet. And too, I've rooted cuttings as further insurance I won't have to pay a ridiculous price for seed next spring.

Most all sellers of this seed claim the seed to be very rare. They use this claim to justify charging $10.00 for 4 or 5 seeds, plus shipping. Makes you wonder how a particular seller on eBay can sell 10 seeds for $5.00 and free shipping. So much for the seed's rarity.

It's true, left to Nature, the caracalla flowers are rarely fertilized and so the plants normally don't set seed. This is due to the complex morphology of the plant, itself.

My thinking is that for someone to be able to offer the seed at a low price, they must have access to a large quantity of seed. With further thinking, I've concluded someone is giving Nature a helping hand with the fertilizing of the flowers to insure an abundant supply of seed.

Here is where I need the help of someone, or more, who studied botany in high school. I didn't, and I am ignorant on the subject. I am trying to hand fertilize my caracalla flowers and don't know if I am anywhere near to doing it correctly.

In picture 1, I have torn away most of the flower's petals, revealing the terminal end of the corkscrew. The bulb like affair houses the female structure as well as the male structure with pollen sacs.

In picture 2, I have stripped away the outer corkscrew tube revealing the female pollen receptor (F), and the male pollen sacs (M).

In picture 3, as the female part becomes receptive to the pollen, the receptor is forced through the end of the corkscrew and out into the open, where it should be available to the pollen for fertilization, But as you can see, the pollen sacs are still enclosed in the terminal sac.

In picture 4, I am taking a pollen sac (PS) from another flower, and gently rubbing it against the female receptor (FR).

Please, someone who knows anything at all about plants, tell me if you think I am doing this right. Yes, this plea is from someone who has cross bred iris, gloxinia, and other flowers, but the anatomy of this flower has me stumped.

Even an educated guess would be appreciated.

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January 30, 2017

This flower is beautiful. It has a delicious fragrance somewhat like the lilac, though much heavier and sweeter. A light breeze will bring a concentration of perfume from this flower to the nose. So, what is the name of this pretty and sweetly scented flower? I'll try to answer that question in hopes of preventing disappointment to those who order seed for this vine.

I have so many pictures of Caracalla, I've lost track of which are mine and which I downloaded. To see pictures I have taken, look here:

The Caracallas Are Coming

The names given to many flowers reflect a similarity of the flower's appearance to the appearance of other objects found in nature. This flower is no exception. This practice can cause much confusion as different people will find a flower's characteristics similar to different other objects.

This flower has more than its share of common and botanical names. It has been and still is called 'Cochliasanthus'. Those who use this name see a similarity in the flower's structure to the structure of a portion of the inner ear known as the 'cochlea'.

Others see a similarity of the flower's structure to that of certain shells such as that of the common land snail and some marine snails. Those who do, prefer to use the terms 'shell vine' and 'snail vine'.

Still, others find the spiral, twisting features of the flower to be somewhat like the configuration of a corkscrew. Those who do, refer to the flower as 'corkscrew vine'.

So much for some of the common names given to this flower. The plant itself produces a pod containing fruit resembling a pea or bean. Earlier, taxonomists placed this flower/plant in the genus 'Phaseolus', with species including the black bean, kidney bean, pinto bean, and green bean.

In 1970, taxonomists removed this plant from the Phaseolus genus and placed it in the 'Vigna' genus which includes species such as the mung bean and the cowpea.

One name for this vine which seems to be fairly stable is 'Caracalla', presumably from Caracalla who was a Roman Emperor, originally named 'Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus'.

If we can trust the findings of taxonomists, this plant is 'Vigna caracalla'. As the genus 'Vigna' includes many species, but only one known as 'caracalla', I think this plant could be properly called Vigna caracalla, though you are more likely to find it listed as Cochliasanthus'.

With this in mind, I think the best common name for the plant would be 'Caracalla'. That name would cover snail, shell, corkscrew, cochliasanthus, and Vigna.

Now, if you have followed this post this far, you might wonder, 'Why all this boring information'? There is a good reason. Since the time I posted my first article on this vine, a lot of interest has been shown. I'm thinking several members plan to order seed for this vine, soon.

Since I discovered this vine, I've done a lot of research. I've found that many people ordered seed only to be disappointed. The major complaint was that the flowers had no scent. I'm sure this was due to the people being sent seed for Phaseolus rather than Vigna. This seems to be a common practice as I have read many accounts of such. Some seed companies even sell their seed as Phaseolus caracalla. To my knowledge, there is no such animal.

If you plan to grow this vine, my advice to you is to buy seed only from a reputable dealer such as Parks. Even reputable dealers may sell them under different names. Be sure you buy from a company showing a picture of the bloom and do be sure the ad refers to the fragrance of the blooms.

I did not buy my seed from a large, reputable dealer. I bought them from a dealer on eBay. I was fortunate that I received exactly what I ordered. There are several dealers offering these seed on eBay. As it turns out, the dealer I purchased from, also offered them at the lowest price.

If you plan to buy seed from one of these lesser known dealers, be sure to ask someone who has ordered from them, if they were pleased with their purchase.

As cold weather continues, I'm finding that these plants are easily kept indoors during the winter. They have not gone dormant. Instead, they are growing very well. This is after I cut them back severely before bringing them in. This tells me I should have established plants to set out come spring and that I will have blooms much earlier than if I started from seed. It also tells me I shouldn't have to by seed ever again.

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January 19, 20170 found this helpful

Bringing tender plants indoors for the winter can help with not having to replace them every year. This is a guide about overwintering cochliasanthus caracalla (corkscrew vine).

Close up of Corkscrew Vine's pink flowers.

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Share on ThriftyFunCheck out these photos. Click at right to share your own photo in this guide.

September 7, 2016

Photo Description
I mentioned earlier in another post that I would be glad to hang my clothes on a tree if these Caracalla vines completely covered my clothes line. Well, that time is just a few days away. Once these things start blooming, they go wild!


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September 9, 2016

Photo Description
OK, Y'all

This is my last Caracalla picture, this season. If it inspires just one person to grow this beautiful vine next year. I will be happy.

The vine is tropical. The first freeze will kill it, here in my zone 7b. I hope it will have made seed, by then. In case it doesn't, I'm rooting cuttings to overwinter inside. If they survive, I will see how they do as heavily pruned potted plants. And of course, I will let you all know.

Should I name my next progeny Cara, middle name Calla (with the parents approval, of course, and only if it's a girl)? A sophisticated variation of Cary, if you will. Sounds nice to me. (I may have started a trend, here).

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October 6, 2016

Photo Description
I don't know what this creature is. Maybe a butterfly? Maybe a moth? In my infinite wisdom, I, in another post, accused this little creature of not knowing what it was doing. It and its kin were feverishly searching the caracalla blooms for nectar, apparently not finding any.

After careful and lengthy observation, I have to admit, my wisdom/knowledge is only par with my fellow beings. These charming little creatures have no knowledge of my ignorance; they just follow the dictates of the program Nature has instilled in them. And they happily find much sweet nectar within the caracalla bloom.

It must be wonderful to be in tune with Nature.

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