Usually considered a rampant vine in a garden landscape, the Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) appropriately gets called the mile-a-minute plant, too. Successfully growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 9, provide Russian vine with a large pergola or towering pole to grow upon. This vine hybridizes with another closely related plant, the silver lace vine (Fallopia aubertii), and thus all may be collectively called Russian vine when quickly identified in a landscape.
A member of the smartweed family, Polygonaceae, Russian vine previously was known botanically as Bilderdykia baldschuanica or Polygonum baldschuanica. Older 19th and 20th century garden literature sources likely list either of these names in their discussions or index.
Growing in moist woodland habitats, the Russian vine's native range is in south-central Asia. It extends from Tajikistan southward across Afghanistan into the western mountains of Pakistan.
Reaching 40 feet in height at maturity and a vining spread of 8 to 10 feet, Russian vine develops woody, twining stems that climb up trees and other support structures. Its dark green, heart-shaped leaves contrast the flowering display in very late summer just before the autumnal equinox. Wispy clusters of tiny white or pink-tinged flowers occur at stem tips and little side branches along the stems. After pollination, they become small, angled fruits that turn pinkish white.
Plant Russian vine in any nutritionally poor to moderately fertile, moist, sandy-loam soil that never becomes soggy after rain. It grows in partial shade to full sun exposures, anywhere from two to 10 hours of direct sun daily. As it is a voracious grower with considerable weight to all its stems and foliage, provide an extremely strong structure or tree for it to climb. Prune it back hard each year in late winter or early spring to a height of 24 inches and allow it to rejuvenate across the growing season.
The tolerance to nutritionally poor soils and a wide range of light exposures finds the Russian vine used to cover hillsides as a rambling ground cover to control erosion and to hide unsightly fallen logs or ugly tree stumps and industrial garbage. It makes a lovely vine for large arbors or tall trees with barren lower trunks.
This vine develops underground rhizome roots and grows more aggressively in fertile garden soils. It has escaped cultivation across Europe where it has naturalized, masquerading as a native vine because of its widespread occurrence. Growing it in less fertile, slightly drier soils lessens its tendency to grow so rampantly.
One variety, Lemon Lace, grows slightly smaller than the wild form. It grows to only 20 to 25 feet tall at maturity and perhaps makes a better, controllable vine choice for garden settings. This more ornamental selection bears yellow-green leaves upon red stems and bears tiny white flowers in midsummer to fall.