Virginia-Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Family:

Grape Family (Vitaceae)

Other Names:

None.

Origin and Distribution:

Virginia creeper is native of eastern North America. In Ohio, it grows throughout the state. It is found in both natural areas such as woods, fields, and stream banks and disturbed sites including orchards, vineyards, roadsides, fencerows, and no-tillage fields. Sometimes it creeps along the ground but usually it climbs over trees, fences, utility poles, or buildings. This woody vine tolerates a wide range of soil conditions from dry and sandy to moist and rich. It is adapted to grow in full sun but is also moderately tolerant of shade.

Plant Description:

Virginia creeper is characterized as a rapidly growing perennial vine with foliage that turns bright red in the fall. Traits that distinguish this creeping or climbing vine from other vines include compound leaves with 5 leaflets and oval-shaped adhesive disks that form at the tips of its branched tendrils. Plants establish by seeds and spread by rooting at stem nodes.

  • Root System:

    Roots form at the nodes whenever vines come in contact with soil. Stems - Stems are woody and either trail along the ground or adhere to objects and other plants by way of small oval disks that form at the ends of branches.

  • Leaves:

    Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node) and compound consisting of 5 (rarely 3 or 7) leaflets. Leaflets radiate from a central point like fingers from the palm of your hand. The oblong leaflets are 2 to 6 inches long and have toothed edges.

  • Flowers:

    Virginia creeper has inconspicuous greenish flowers that are small and form in clusters consisting of 50 to 150 flowers.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Fruits are small, blue-black berries about the size of peas. Many fruits aggregate in small terminal clusters. Each berry contains 3 or fewer seeds.

Similar Species:

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is another woody vine but its leaves have 3 (rarely 1 or 2) leaflets compared with Virginia creeper, which usually has 5 leaflets. Also, Virginia creeper tendrils end in oval-shaped adhesive disks while poison ivy adheres by way of aerial roots that give stems the appearance of a millipede. In addition, Virginia creeper has small blue-black fruits whereas the fruits of poison ivy are white berries. Thicket creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea) is a woody vine with compound leaves, but it is usually trailing rather than climbing. Although the tips of thicket creeper tendrils may appear enlarged, they lack adhesive disks. Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) has tendrils that are tipped with adhering disks. However, Boston ivy leaves are 3 lobed and have smooth edges compared with Virginia creeper leaves that have 5 leaflets with teeth along their edges. Also, Boston ivy tendrils are much shorter than Virginia creeper tendrils.

Biology:

Flowers appear in June to July. Fruits ripen in October. Stems grow as much as 20 feet in one year. The leaves of this deciduous woody vine turn brilliant red in the fall. Virginia creeper is sometimes grown as an ornamental that is valued for the color of its foliage in autumn. Berries are an important food for birds in winter. Controlling Virginia creeper with herbicides is problematic because the foliage must be covered thoroughly without harming other plants that may be supporting the climbing vine.

Toxicity:

The berries as well as the leaves are reported to be toxic. Consumption of berries causes nausea, drowsiness, and profuse sweating and can lead to death. Touching the autumn foliage may cause dermatitis in a small percentage of individuals.

Facts and Folklore:

  • Teas made from this plant have been used to treat numerous ailments including jaundice, gonorrhea, and rash caused by contact with poison sumac.

  • Virginia creeper has been used as an astringent and a diuretic.

  • 'Leaves of three, let it be; leaves of five, let it thrive'.

  • It has been estimated that 10 pounds of force would be required to separate a Virginia creeper vine adhering to a surface by way of 5, disk-bearing branches.