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Black-eyed Susan Vine
This showy tender perennial vine is native to tropical Africa and India and was introduced to Britain in 1823.1 It was often listed as an evergreen climber for hot houses in early 19th-century catalogs. Joseph Breck described yellow, white, and orange flowered varieties by mid-century and Peter Henderson and William Robinson both recommended it as a half-hardy annual climber for short trellises, or against walls.
The vine is included in a charming book, The Parlor Garden, which Jefferson's granddaughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph translated and edited from French in English and published in 1861. The book notes: "The Thunbergia lays hold of any thing that is within its reach, without ever rising very high. It becomes covered with charming flowers, of a fine nankeen yellow, set off with a black spot in the middle. You find it, as well as the passion-flower and the Mandevilles, at all the greenhouses."
Black-eyed Susan Vine prefers moist but well-drained, fertile soil and full sun to part shade. Requires a trellis or some support of the tendrils; prefers morning sun and afternoon shade and does not like intense heat. Soak seed in warm water 1-8 hours before sowing in pots or in the ground after last frost. Can be used in planters and hanging baskets, boxes, urns, and rock work.2
- Dutton, Joan Parry. Plants of Colonial Williamsburg Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, 1979
- Seeds available for purchase at Monticello Museum Shop
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants
- 1. This article is based on a Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet.
- 2. Denise Wiles Adams, Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940 (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc., 2004), 152.