Jennifer StackhouseDo you know Carolina Jasmine?

There’s a scrambling vine in my garden, which I’ve trained onto the post of the pergola. For much of the year it is wiry with small, shiny green leaves but as winter comes round it turns on a show. As winter burgeons into spring the Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) masses itself with small bright yellow tubular blooms. In warmer areas it flowers while it is still quite wintery.

Yellow bell flowers on Carolina jasmine

Yellow bell flowers on Carolina jasmine

I love this dainty climbing plant and, until I started to write this blog, wouldn’t have hesitated to recommend it for any garden because, as well as having bright yellow flowers in late winter when everything can be a bit bleak, Carolina jasmine is a gentle climber. It isn’t a thug like the other jasmine flowering in my garden at the moment, Jasminum polyanthum. It can be grown as a ground cover but is seen at its best trained upwards to twine up and over an arch or a fence. It easily reaches 5m high. Carolina jasmine will also grow in a pot making it handy for growing on a sunny or partly shaded balcony. It is tolerant of frost and will grow from the cold temperate regions to the hot tropics.

Carolina jasmine twines up the pergola post – a gentle climber

Carolina jasmine twines up the pergola post – a gentle climber

I have the single form, but there is double flowered form that I have seen listed as ‘Pride of Augusta’ or ‘Flora Plena’.

But there’s more to this plant than I knew. I know common names can be misleading and as I knew this wasn’t a true jasmine, I thought I’d delve into this plant a little more deeply. Sure enough there are hidden depths.

So, is this plant from the Carolines? And, is it a jasmine? Well, yes and no. Yes it may be found in the Carolines as it is native to the southern US, but it’s a negative on the jasmine link.
Although gelsomino is the Italian name for jasmine and it is commonly called Carolina jasmine and has a sweet perfume, Gelsemium isn’t a jasmine – not by a long chalk.

Carolina jasmine yellow flowers

In late winter and early spring it is a mass of yellow flowers

The jasmines are in the olive family (Oleaceae) while Gelsemium isn’t.

Just where to place Gelsemium sempervirens is a bit tricky as it is variously classified as part of the Loganiaceae or, since 1994 after a splitting up of the family, placed in its own small family of Gelsemiaceae, which it shares with a tropical plant I don’t know called Mostuea. One of the issues is that Gelsemium doesn’t have milky sap like the rest of the Loganiaceae.

Loganiaceae is a family of mainly tropical and subtropical plants that contains several poisonous genera including Strychnos (the source of strychnine) and Gelsemium. My copy of ABC Flora notes that Gelsemium sempervirens is poisonous but it doesn’t expand on which parts are dangerous or how poisonous. Certainly, nothing ever eats it. Black fruits form occasionally after flowering and these may be the culprits. All that’s apparent now however are a few dry brown capsules that have split open to release some papery seeds.

Mud wasps have built their homes around its wiry stems

Mud wasps have built their homes around its wiry stems

Now I know it’s poisonous however I’ll be on the look out for these fruit after flowering and prune them off. Of course, as soon as I went out to take a closer look at my plant my ever-helpful pug Dora started chewing on one of the lower branches. I stopped her, not wanting to find out the hard way whether or not it has poisonous sap!




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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

7 thoughts on “Do you know Carolina Jasmine?

  1. Yes, I know Carolina jasmine and grow it on a front fence in Melbourne where a Banksia rose struggles because the possums find the Banksia rose really yummy. The Gelsemium is not to the possums taste however (maybe because it’s poisonous?) and it is flowering prolifically right now. It has been there for a decade or so and I have never seen a seed pod or any remnants of one when I prune it.

  2. That sounds like an interesting plant to try; Maybe I’ll be able to find one in The Big Apple! It may be good enough temperature-wise for here and if not, it can join the hibiscus, avocado, ficus, & Eucharist lily that live outside during the summer and inside during the winter!

  3. This is a great, delicate climber-a bit like Solanum in habit and sun/shade positions perhaps both in flowers and poisonous capabilities.
    You are correct in that it does not seem to attract pests or possums etc in Sydney gardens.
    Thanks for the research Jennifer!

  4. It even grows well in our tough dry tropical weather up here on Magnetic Island & can be easily propagated by layering. We brought our original motherplant with us from Melbourne, where it scrambled over our chook pen – it adapted very well and looks terrific.

  5. I have it flowering now in Melbourne just arounda year since I bought 2 they have both reached the top of my arch. I wonder just how big this fast growing. limber will be. Very bright and sunny flowers. It looks great.

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