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Tuesday - February 23, 2010

From: Boston, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Vines
Title: Prickly vine for fire escape in Boston
Answered by: Barbara Medford and Joe Marcus


I live in Boston area and would like to plant a prickly vine that will grow on my fire escape. What do you recommend?


The first thing we recommend is that you contact your Fire Department, landlord or homeowner's association to find out if it is legal to plant anything on your fire escape. We went to the website for the Boston Fire Department and found this page on Fire Department Questions and Comments. There are a number of contact numbers on that page; if the first one can't answer your question, they can probably tell you who could. The thing is, the whole point of a fire escape is easy access and escape for the occupants of the building. A vine, including a prickly vine, that might trip or hurt people who needed to move quickly and safely would definitely not be a good use of plants.

Assuming (and we are not doing that) you get approvals from all the above authorities, you have another set of problems to deal with, including the location of dirt. Even if your fire escape sits above an area of dirt instead of sidewalk, it is going to be poor, compacted, possibly polluted dirt, and the vine would have to be supported up to the first level of the escape. If you chose to put a pot with potting soil in it, it would be heavy, difficult to transport and, once again, a possible safety hazard. 

Final set of problems: what prickly vine would live in an exposed situation in Boston, which is in USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 6a, with annual average minimum temperatures of -10 to -5 deg. F. There were none following those specifications in our Recommended Species list for Massachusetts, but in our Plant Database, we found some roses that come close.

Only one is considered an actual climbing rose, but the others have plenty of prickles and are fairly tall.  Rosa acicularis (prickly rose) and Rosa arkansana (prairie rose) are examples of moderately tall roses native to Massachusetts with prickly branches but not really climbing vines.

Rosa setigera (climbing rose) - climbing branches 6 to 15 ft. long, scattered, straight prickles along stem, deciduous, blooms white, pink in May, low water use, sun, part shade or shade

Rosa palustris (swamp rose) - 6 to 8 ft. tall, numerous thorny stems, medium water use, sun, part shade or shade

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Rosa setigera

Rosa setigera

Rosa palustris

Rosa palustris



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