Invasive climbing vines in the UK

Other Invasives | 03rd June 2024

A home, or outbuilding, adorned with foliage is often considered quaint, or representative of a quintessential countryside setting. However, many of these buildings are wrapped in invasive vine weeds, or plants, that pose a threat to the UK’s natural and built environments. Often, this will conjure the image of invasive vines with white flowers or heart-shaped leaves. That’s characteristic of bindweed, a native species; however, there are other non-native vine species listed in UK legislation. Accurate climbing invasive vine identification is essential to mitigate impact, which can include habitat disruption, biodiversity loss, and structural damage.

What is a climbing vine?

In the UK, the term ‘climber’ typically refers to any climbing plant that ascends using tendrils and stems to latch onto supports like walls or fences. However, not all vines are climbers. As the name suggests, climbers naturally tend to grow vertically, whereas some vines will grow horizontally, often requiring support to grow upwards. These are creeping or trailing vines, and not a naturally climbing vine. Thus, a climbing vine refers to a vine which grows vertically.

Climbing invasive vine identification

There are a number of invasive climbing vines to be aware of, and it can be difficult to identify which vine may be present on your property or in your area.

To help with climbing invasive vine identification, we have compiled a list of plant species commonly found in the UK. The climbing vines listed below pose a potential invasive threat, with some native species displaying invasive traits.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

First recorded in the UK wild in 1927, Virginia Creeper is found throughout England and Wales, mainly in the South. As a deciduous climber, its green leaves turn bright red in autumn, producing purple berries.

The fast-growing climbing vine attaches itself to buildings, plants, and trees, where it swamps other climbers and plants. Equipped with tendrils bearing suckers at the tips, it adheres to various structures, making removal challenging.

Virginia Creeper is classified on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 as an invasive non-native species in the UK, posing a significant threat to local ecosystems.

Close up of the autumn leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Close up of the autumn leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) iStock/Mariia Skovpen

Balloon vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum)

Growing rapidly up to 8 metres, this evergreen climbing vine has small white flowers and a robust stem. Balloon vine is one of the most distinctive invasive vine weeds. Its name is derived from the fruit it produces: balloon-shaped capsules containing black, heart-shaped seeds. Leaves are dark green and consist of 9 leaflets.

In warmer climates, Balloon vine reproduces by self-seeding and spreads via water and wind. Its thick wall of stems reduces the amount of light to other species and damages native trees from its weight. Consequently, Balloon vine is listed as a ‘Species of Special Concern’ by the Non-native Species Secretariat (NNSS).

Close up of a Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum) plant

Close up of a Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum) plant iStock Tammy Walker

Japanese hop (Humulus scandens)

Also listed as a non-native plant and ‘Species Special Concern’, Japanese hop swiftly blankets large areas, choking native vegetation by blocking light. Swift identification of this climbing invasive vine is required to curtail Its rapid growth during summer months. Otherwise, it will quickly outcompete native species, posing a threat to biodiversity.

Japanese hop is dioecious (requiring both male and female plants) for reproduction, despite this it is still rapid to spread. Visually, it is characterised by leaves with 3 to 7 lobes, roughly 10-15 centimetres in size, and pale green or yellow flowers.

Humulus japonica (Japanese hop) flowers and fruits.

Humulus japonica (Japanese hop) flowers and fruits iStock undefined undefined

Vine-like fern (Lygodium japonicum)

With fringed leaves typical of ferns, this vine reaches heights of up to 30 metres across various environments. Thriving in sun or shade, this invasive vine weed adapts to both moist and dry soils.

Vine-like fern possesses a rhizomatous root system (like Japanese knotweed) and, if rhizome remains when manually removed, it will regrow rapidly. Treatment with a systemic herbicide is appropriate for this species, but should take into account the plants surroundings.

Like other invasive climbing vines, Vine-like fern shades out native species by clinging to trees and shrubs, earning its status as a ‘Species of Special Concern’ listed by the NNSS.

Close up of the leaves of vine-like fern (Lygodium japonicum)

Close up of the leaves of vine-like fern (Lygodium japonicum) iStock wahid hasyim asyari

Kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata)

Kudzu vine is an invasive climber with compound leaves consisting of broad leaflets, ideal for shading other plants; it densely carpets vast areas of ground, covering plants and trees. As such, it is recognised by the NNSS as a ‘Species of Special Concern.’

The plant is extremely aggressive, and spreads rapidly through runners, trailing stems that root and from which new plants grow. Besides asexual propagation, Kudzu vine reproduces sexually through seed germination upon flowering.

Its clusters of red or purple flowers, measuring up to 3 centimetres long, typically appear when the plant reaches around 3 years old.  The plant has hairy stems and vines, growing from a root crown at Kudzu vine’s centre.

Flowering Kudzu vine (Pueraria montana var. lobata)

Flowering Kudzu vine (Pueraria montana var. lobata) iStock bungoume

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Twining around and often crushing trees under its weight, Japanese Honeysuckle is listed as an invasive species under The Invasive Alien Species Order NI 2019. While it typically sprawls 2 to 3 metres along the ground, it can ascend up to 15 metres on a tree, outcompeting native plants for light and nutrients.

From spring until autumn, Japanese Honeysuckle blossoms with white flowers, later turning yellow, followed by the formation of small black berries containing seeds dispersed by animals or the wind. As the vine matures, its green stems thicken and become woody, featuring a brown bark.

Flowering white-yellow Honeysuckle. Lonicera japonica, known as Japanese honeysuckle in bloom

Flowering white-yellow Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) iStock saraTM

Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba)

Clematis vitalba, known as Old Man’s Beard and Traveller’s joy, is a woody climbing plant found growing over bushes and trees. Its mature stems, transitioning from green and purple to grey with thick nodes, can form roots when in contact with the ground. Flowers are small, white, and feathery, giving the plant its name, ‘Old Man’s Beard.’

While not officially listed as invasive, Old Man’s Beard is considered invasive in non-native areas: it is native to the south of England but is now found in many areas around the UK. Its rapid, dense growth threatens woodland areas, potentially swamping and damaging supporting trees and shrubs due to its weight.

Close up of old man's beard

Close up of old man’s beard © tintac

Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica)

Though also not listed as invasive in the UK, Russian vine exhibits invasive characteristics. Reaching heights of up to 12 metres and spanning 8 metres, its tendrils twine around surrounding vegetation. Russian vine has triangular or heart-shaped leaves, delicate white flowers, and a woody stem.

Like other invasive climbing vines, Russian vine can diminish biodiversity by shading out native trees and shrubs, spreading rapidly. Of significant concern is its potential to hybridise with Japanese Knotweed, posing a future threat to UK ecosystems.

Russian vine climbing plant (Fallopia baldschuanica) flowers and leaves

Russian vine climbing plant (Fallopia baldschuanica) flowers and leaves iStock/PFMphotostock

Common ivy (Hedera helix)

Common ivy is a climbing invasive vine with white flowers appearing in clusters called umbels, and blooming in early autumn. The invasive vine, with heart-shaped leaves which are dark green, glossy, and veined, is an evergreen climber growing as tall as 30 metres. The stems of the plant have specialised hairs enabling it to cling to trees, walls, or other structures.

Like Russian vine, Common ivy is not listed as an invasive species, although Ivy is native to the UK. That is not to say the plant does not threaten UK ecosystems. Common ivy spreads vegetatively with new growths at the end of stems, and by seeds dispersed by birds and other wildlife. This vine engulfs trees and vegetation, hindering photosynthesis. Moreover, it can carry Xylella fastidiosa, a harmful pathogen to native tree species like oaks.

Close up of the leaves of common ivy

Close up of the leaves of common ivy © tintac

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Hedge bindweed, aptly named for its tendency to grow over hedges and shrubs, entwines itself around other plants, choking them in the process. Between June and September, this invasive vine with distinctive heart-shaped leaves and  white flowers can be seen climbing through hedges and over other plants. Its trumpet-shaped flowers, distinguish it from Field bindweed, along with its climbing nature.

Whilst this native vine certainly has invasive properties but isn’t listed in UK legislation. However, it is a plant that is challenging to remove due to its root regeneration capabilities. Even small root fragments left behind can lead to regrowth. Its underground rhizomes spread rapidly, in a single season reaching over 2 metres. While Hedge bindweed doesn’t frequently produce seeds, seeds remain viable for years.

Hedge bindweed in flower - a UK native invasive climbing vine with white flowers and heart-shaped leaves

Hedge bindweed in flower – a UK native invasive climbing vine with white flowers and heart-shaped leaves © tintac

This list is not exhaustive, and example of another notable climbing plant discussed in relation to its invasive tendencies is climbing hydrangea. However, these are some of the most common or notable (based on references in legislation) invasive climbing vines in the UK.

If you have concerns about climbing invasive vine weeds, or need help identifying invasive species, contact PBA Solutions on 0203 174 2187 or 01202 816134 for expert advice and assistance. 



Request callback

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.