Vines are either climbing or trailing plants that grow on elongated stems. The term was first applied to grapevines by citizens of Ancient Rome. For this reason, the words vine and wine are very closely related. Vine plant varieties may vary, from grapevines all the way to kudzu. Some species of plants only put out vines at certain times during their life cycles. Despite this, vines have several characteristics in common.
Examine the plant that you suspect may be a vine. The first sign that your plant may be a vine is that it has an elongated stem. In older plants, this stem may seem woody, while in younger plants it may have a leathery, shoelace quality.
Explore the plant at the point where leaves emerge. This knob of growth, known as the leaf node, may also sprout a tiny, ribbon-like tendril or root. Tendrils wrap around objects to support the vine’s climbing habit, while roots anchor the plant in soil or other surfaces. Roots or tendrils along nodes is another characteristic of a vine.
Take note of the way in which the plant grows. Plants with stems that grow in spirals, or twine their stems around objects in order to climb up them for support, may be considered vines due to this growth pattern.
Take a photo of a plant that you suspect may be a vine. Some plants, such as poison ivy, will appear to be shrubs if they cannot find a support to grow up along. You can use your photo to make a positive identification of the plant.
Consult a professional botanist for positive identification of your plant using your photograph. You can find professional botanists working at plant nurseries, in botanical gardens, as volunteers or paid employees in state parks, as extension agents with the county extension service branch of your local college’s continuing education program, or with master gardener’s programs.
Match your photo to photographs in books written about vines, such as "Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing and Propagating North American Woody Plants," or "The Explorer's Garden: Shrubs and Vines From the Four Corners of the World." You can find such books at your local library or through inter-library loan. You can also purchase such books online or at your local bookstore.