Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper is synonymous with Virginia, growing wild in nearly every yard and woodlot. It is a vigorous native deciduous woody vine that blooms, bears fruit, and has a beautiful red fall color when growing in the sun. It can scramble across the ground or grow up vertical structures, and thrives in full sun to full shade. Indeed, Virginia Creeper can be grown as a groundcover where little else will grow. Periodic maintenance will be needed to keep it from overwhelming smaller trees and plants, but its potential as a landscaping plant has yet to be tapped (see Cultivation & Special Precautions below).

Leaves of three, let it be; Leaves of five, let it thrive.

A rhyme for telling Virginia Creeper from poison ivy.

Cultivation

Special Precautions

While Wikipedia points out that the manner of the vine’s attachment to structures doesn’t cause structural damage to stone or masonry, and that in the case of fragile surfaces, surface damage can be mitigated by first cutting the vine at the base to kill it, allowing it to die and dry before pulling it free (Wikipedia, 2023), Virginia Creeper can definitely cause damage. It can weigh down smaller trees and structures by sheer mass, and cause damage especially to relatively more delicate gutters, shutters, wiring, and paint, as well as widening cracks in foundations or getting into wooden frames. Virginia Creeper is also noted as a highly flammable plant and not recommended for planting within the defensible space of the home (NC State Extension). So, while the vine presents untapped potential in the cultivated space, it should probably be kept away from the house and tended regularly.

Unfortunately, it is considered an invasive species in England (RHS, 2023) where it has been introduced because of its lovely trailing form, brilliant fall color, perfect suitability to the traditional practice of growing vines up the walls of stone buildings which do not have air conditioning as a way to keep them cool, and the human love for novelty that has fueled the exotic plant trade.

Like all vines, an understanding of its growth habit together with regular tending can allow you to enjoy this attractive native vine, rather than consigning it to the category of noxious weed here in Virginia where it is native and does belong.

Leaves of Five

The five leaflet structure distinguishes it quite clearly from Poison Ivy, although they are often confused. Both grow in similar conditions, often side-by-side, and the leaves are often a similar color, sheen, and size. Remember the motto for differentiating the two: “Leaves of three, let it be; Leaves of five, let it thrive.” You can also tell a Poison Ivy main vine by its thick covering of fine long red-to-brown hairs, usually attached to a tree and sometimes as thick around as your arm! No other vine has these fine hairs.

Human Uses: Poison Note

According to Wildflower.org, the berries are HIGHLY TOXIC to humans and “May be Fatal if Eaten! Symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, bloody vomiting and diarrhea, dilated pupils, headache, sweating, weak pulse, drowsiness, twitching of face. Toxic Principle: Oxalic acid and possibly others. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.) Also, the plant’s tissues contain raphides, which can irritate the skin of some people. It is less likely to irritate, and usually, though not always, less irritating than Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), which it somewhat resembles and with which it is often confused.” (Wildflower.org, 2023).

Ecology

A Ubiquitous Native

Although Virginia Creeper is often considered a weed, and is extremely widely adaptable to a vast range of habitats across the state, it is native! As one might suspect from a ubiquitous native plant, Parthenocissus quinquefolia supports many songbirds, squirrels, opossum, raccoons, and other mammals with its berries (warning! these are toxic to humans). Bees and other pollinators enjoy the nectar from the flowers. And it is a larval host for several charismatic moths, including Abbott’s Sphinx Moth (Sphecodina abbottii), Pandora Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha pandorus), Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth (Darapsa myron), and White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata).

Virginia Heritage Community Type Hallmark

Virginia Creeper is a definining member of Central Appalachian Montane Rich Boulderfield Forests where it scrambles over boulderfields. [USNVC CEGL008528, Tilia americana – Fraxinus americana Acer pensylvanicum – Ostrya virginiana Parthenocissus quinquefolia – Impatiens pallida Forest (G3/S3)] is a type of Low-Elevation Boulderfield Forests.

PLANT FACTS


Scientific Name

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Other names: Victoria creeper, five-leaved ivy, five-finger, Ampelopsis hederacea, Ampelopsis quinquefolia

Family: Vitaceae (grapes).

Native Status

Native to Floyd County

Native Range Map (Virginia Counties) for Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Source: Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora

Native to eastern and central North America, from southeastern Canada and the eastern United States west to Manitoba and Utah, and south to eastern Mexico and Guatemala.

Other Floyd County native Parthenocissus: none.

Culture Notes

Height: 60-100 ft, Spacing guide: 5'-10'. Bloom Color: White, Green. Bloom Time: Late Winter (Feb-Mar). Light: Full sun to full shade. Moisture: Dry to moist (xeric to subhydric) conditions. Soils: Not picky, widely adapted.

Habitat

USDA Zones: 3-9. National Wetland Status Indicator: UPL. C-Value: 3. Successional Role: Pioneer, post-disturbance, Subclimax, stable.

Virginia Ecology

Virginia Habitat: "Ubiquitous in an extraordinary range of wet to very dry, forested to open habitats; tolerant of a range of soil types, tolerant of deep flooding, capable of rooting in deep outcrop crevices and boulder-field interstices that exclude other plants; scarce at the highest elevations. Common throughout; certainly one of the most widely distributed species in Virginia." (The Flora, 2023). Virginia Natural Communities: Low-Elevation Boulderfield Forests

Ecosystem Services

Nectar for Native Nectar-Feeders, Larval Host for Butterflies & Moths, Bird Food, Mast for Small to Medium Animals

Wildlife Supported: Birds eat fruit through winter (chickadees, nuthatches, mockingbirds, catbirds, finches, flycatchers, tanagers, swallows, vireos, warblers, woodpeckers, and thrushes). A larval host for several species of sphinx moths, including Abbott's Sphinx Moth (Sphecodina abbottii), Pandora Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha pandorus), Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth (Darapsa myron), White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata).

Propagation

Layering or hardwood cuttings in the fall. By seed, "collect fruits after they have turned bluish black by hand-stripping from vine. Extract seeds from pulp and air-dry. Store in sealed containers at 42 degrees." (Wildflower.org). Seed Germination: C60 - 60 days cold moist stratification required

Where to Buy

Many nurseries online, but if you live in Virginia, you might be better off gathering cuttings from a friend’s yard.