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Virginia Creeper
virginia creeper berries
Virginia Creeper, photographed at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in October 2013.
virginia creeper
 

If you Google Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, you'll come up with numerous hits telling you how to kill this vine. Any plant growing in the wrong place can be a pest, but we'd argue that with Virginia creeper, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Virginia creeper is fairly attractive. Songbirds love the berries it produces, as do squirrels, deer and other animals. Deer and cattle will browse the leaves and stems. But this Florida native is also fairly aggressive almost to the point of being invasive. It is a vine that can reach massive lengths, able to grow on and stick to just about any surface — walls, fences, trees, your house — thanks to tendrils that have adhesive disks on the end. Think twice before letting it grow onto your house because we can tell you from experience that it is difficult to remove.

Virginia creeper is grown as a ground cover, as an ornamental and to attract wildlife. Because of its aggressive growth and dense foliage, it's also used to hide unsightly things like rock piles and tree stump.

By the way, some people will mistake Virginia creeper as poison ivy, but the two are easily distinguished from each other; both can have woody stems, both are aggressive climbers and both have compound leaves. The difference? our guy has five leaflets; poison ivy has three.

Virginia creeper can grow to 60 feet or more. Its native range includes most of the eastern and central United States, extending westward into Colorado and Utah. It's found as far north as Canada and as far south as Cuba and the Bahamas

 
 
virginia creeper
 

It is a fast-growing perennial that will trail along the ground or climb into the sky. The compound leaves have five leaflets, each two to six inches long and with serrated, or toothed, edges. New leaves are tinged red, turning green as they mature. In the northern parts of their range, the leaves will turn spectacular shades of red in the fall before dropping as winter approaches. In the south, the plant is semi-deciduous, dropping only some of its leaves. The vines turn woody as the plant matures, the skin brown and covered with small, raised dots.

Virginia creeper blooms in the spring; the flowers are small, greenish white and grow in clusters. Fruit follows in summer into fall, first a pale color but turning blue to near black when ripe. The fruit is a delight for birds and other animals but is toxic and potentially deadly for humans. The sap can irritate the skin.

Native Americans have used Virginia creeper to make medicines and dyes and as a food. The Kiowa used it to make a pink dye for war paint, while the Iroquois used it to counteract the effects of poison sumac. The Montana ate the fruit like grapes, while the Ojibwa boiled the root as a special food.

Fun fact: there are nine plants growing in South Florida that have Virginia as part of their name, all natives, some quite rare. Fun fact No. 2: there are 12,000 to 19,000 Virginia creeper seeds per pound. Fun fact No. 3: the genus name, Parthenocissus, is Greek for virgin ivy, while the species name, quinquefolia, refers to the plant's signature five leaflets.

Other common names include woodbind, American ivy, five-leaved ivy (also spelled fiveleaved), five leaves and thicket creeper. It is a member of Vitaceae, the grape family.

Photographs by David Sedore
 
 
virginia creeper florida
  United States Department of Agriculture Distribution maps for Virginia creeper.  
virginia creeper u.s.
 
Links for Virginia Creeper
 
 
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.