Vine-covered buildings and homes conjure up images of old-world Europe, where taverns and inns have been covered in foliage for centuries. Climbing plants that grow to cover walls anchor themselves through the use of aerial roots--small rootlet protrusions along the runner stems that penetrate and stick to bricks, stone, masonry, and wood. The best climbing plants for walls are perennial plants--evergreens that stay alive all year-round.
Virginia creeper is a climbing vine that grows on walls, reaching heights of up to 60 feet. The plant's botanical name is Parthenocissus quniguefolia. Virginia creeper tolerates shady conditions, so it will even grow well on the usually-avoided north end of a building. In the northern United States, the plant's foliage turns deep red during the fall. The vine is cold-hardy in gardening zones 3 through 9.
Boston ivy grows quickly, though not as tall as Virginia creeper. With the support of a wall to climb up, Boston ivy grows up to 50 feet tall. Boston ivy prefers filtered light, but tolerates partial shade. The Boston ivy climbs up walls with the use of suckers at the tips of their rootlets, which stick to surfaces. The leaves of the Boston ivy are dark green. The plant is cold hardy in gardening zones 4 through 9.
The potato vine is a flowering perennial climbing plant. Its botanical name is solanum jasminoides album. The vine produces small white flowers. Potato vine grows well in filtered sun or shady areas. The vine blooms from spring or summer through late fall or early winter.
The Chinese trumpet is a climbing vining plant that produces flowers in orange to red. The flowers are produced in clusters of 6 to 12 flowers per group. Chinese trumpet, as the name implies, is native to China. In the United States, the plant is cold hardy in gardening zones 5 through 9, although it prefers the warmer climes of zones 7 through 9. Chinese trumpets survive the deep freezes common in the Northeast, and come back to life each spring.
English ivy--also known by its Latin botanical name, Hedera helix--is the most common of all the ivies. This ivy is a fast grower, and climbs up walls with ease. English ivy anchors itself to walls with the use of rootlet suction cups called "hold fasts." Hold fasts adhere themselves to masonry, stone, and brick so tightly that they remain stuck to walls long after ivy is torn down. Gerald Klingaman, retired horticulturalist at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, says that "nothing short of sandblasting" will remove the hold-fasts once they adhere to a wall.
While the English ivy poses no threat to the structural integrity of a brick or stone wall, they should not be permitted to anchor to and grow on wooden walls. The English ivy traps moisture between itself and the wall, which eventually encourages wood rot on wooden walls.