The Virginia creeper goes by a myriad of names. They include but are not limited to thicket creeper, woodbine, false grapes, woodbine, American Ivy, five leaves, and five-leaved Ivy. Scientifically, it goes by the name Parthenocissus quinquefolia.
However, it has other scientific names. As for local names, this would depend on the area in question. In Sweden, people refer to it as klättervildvin. In Italy, people know it as the vite del Canada commune. Do you know its name in your language?
The Virginia creeper is a woody deciduous vine once widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. As is the case with many invasive species, it was once contained before escapes made their way to neighboring gardens.
As it spread, it became naturalized, and it took over natural habitats. In this process, it edged out the native species and was thus considered an invasive weed.
It grows at a rapid rate, and this aids in its ease of spread. A single vine can reach a height of up to fifteen or twenty meters. To do this, it relies on climbing surfaces such as trees, poles, or other tall surfaces.
This reliance is possible thanks to the presence of tendrils along the vine, which have small adhesive pads at the end. These pads adhere to surfaces such as stone or tree barks, enabling the plant to have adequate support to reach greater heights.
As the vine grows, it does so in a cluster which allows it to form somewhat of a blanket. In this way, it creates a shade that keeps the growth underneath from getting adequate access to sunlight.
As it makes its way up the trees, it also blocks out the vegetation in the canopy from the sun.
Its growing behavior has made it classify as a weed in many regions. An example of such a country would be Australia, where this vine has proven to be a threat to the environment.
In other places, it classifies as an invasive plant, having spread fast and pushed out native species. Excellent examples, in this case, would be Cuba, China, and many countries in Europe.
How to identify Virginia Creeper
This vine can either trail along the ground or climb on surfaces. Often, people confuse this plant with the eastern poison ivy. However, there is a clear distinction between the two.
The Virginia creeper has five leaflets, while poison ivy has three. If ever you are in doubt as to what is in your outdoors, this tidbit can help. Here is a closer look as to the Virginia creeper’s features:
This plant features compound leaves that comprise five leaflets. The leaflets are not of one size as it will depend on the conditions of growth. They can range from two to six inches, but in all cases, the margins have teeth.
When the leaves emerge, they have a red hue. As time passes, the hue changes from red to green. However, the color change does not stop there as it also depends on the seasons. In the fall, the leaves change to a hue ranging from red to maroon.
Flowers and fruits
Given that this vine has brightly colored leaves, one would think that the flowers would also have shouting colors. But that is not the case. The truth is that it is quite easy to miss the flowers as they are green.
They emerge in the spring and give rise to small fruits towards the start of summer. The fruits measure anything from four to six millimeters in width. Towards the exterior, they have a bluish-black hue. Inside, they have about two to three seeds.
When the stems emerge from the ground, they have brownish green appearances with fine hair covering them. As they mature, they change to a purplish-brown color with some pale raised dots. From the stem arise branched tendrils with adhesive tips.
Virginia Creeper habitat
The Virginia creeper is native to North America, namely Canada, the USA, and Mexico, as well as Central America. However, it has spread to other regions owing to its ornamental uses. For this reason, it is not uncommon to find it in southern Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.
For example, in Zimbabwe, it was introduced as an ornamental plant, but soon escapes of the same were present in neighboring gardens. It became clear that intervention was necessary when the vine got sighted in a riverine forest. The same goes for other regions.
This creeper grows depending on whether it is native to a region or not. In native areas, it grows in forests, regardless of their age. It is also common in moist thickets, ravines, open woods, wastelands, roadsides, forest trails, and along water sources. It is common in elevations ranging from the sea level through to fifteen hundred meters above sea level.
Where it is not native and has become naturalized, it will grow in human-made habitats. That means that you can find it along old walls, rails, buildings, and other such spaces.
It is also common near roads and in hedges. A good example would be Australia, where the creeper seems to have a preference for urban bushlands.
This vine prefers moist and well-drained soils with a pH that is acidic or neutral. However, that is not to say that it cannot thrive in other conditions. Studies show that the creeper can adapt to alkaline and dry soils owing to its ability to withstand varying soil conditions.
Also, it can do well in partial shade though it prefers to grow in the sun. It can also withstand salt and would do well in salty regions.
History of Virginia Creeper
The introduction of this vine to other regions was for ornamental purposes. For example, in Europe, the introduction took place in 1679, where it was put under cultivation. Over time, it naturalized and became common in countries such as Slovakia and France.
A good example would be Great Britain, where the introduction of this creeper took place in 1629. It took some time before the species became invasive as its first sighting in the wild took place in 1927.
From then on, it became clear that the vine was spreading on its own. And there was thus a need for control measures.
In Australia, the introduction took place early on in the nineteenth century. Here, it is a weed, posing a threat to the environment.
Flowering takes place between June and August in North America, where this creeper is native. Note that for other regions, the timing will differ. Once the vine produces the inconspicuous green flowers, bees and wasps follow.
These insects aid in pollinating these flowers, which then result in fruits. In native regions, the fruits will mature as from August to October. The fruits start dropping as from September, and this continues through to February.
By the time the fruits drop, the seeds are mature. After dispersal, the seeds can germinate in the first or second spring after that. Let us take a look at non-native regions: China and the UK. Here, flowering will also start in June or July, and fruiting begins as from August. You can see that the variation in timing is not that big.
When the seeds get dispersed and end up in ideal conditions, they can start germinating. The germination success rate is not very high as it stands at between twenty and fifty percent.
For this success rate to be high, the seeds should experience sustained cold for an extended period, as this will help in breaking down their dormancy. It is important to note that once stratification takes place, exposure to high temperatures can result in secondary dormancy.
However, the viability of the seeds will also depend on the part of the fruit from which they came. Those that come from the soft part have a higher germination capacity compared to those that do not.
The vine does not face any natural enemies during its growth. As much as wilt and mildew and leaf spots may affect the plant occasionally, they cause little damage.
The same goes for beetles, caterpillars, and leafhoppers. They tatter the leaves but will not affect the growth pattern of the vine as they do not affect the root system.
How does Virginia Creeper spread?
In many regions, this creeper got introduced as a means to add beauty to the landscape. Where this is the case, people will introduce it in the form of layering or hardwood cuttings.
From here, it can grow. Once it establishes in an area, it can rely on root fragments to spread to other fields.
The same holds when people introduce the vine as a means to control erosion in sloping areas.
This vine produces seed-containing fruits. Where birds feed on these fruits, they take in the seeds which they then spread to faraway places. Other than birds, the fruits also act as a source of food for small mammals, deer and game birds. Once they pass the seeds, the chances of germination are high.
Other means of dispersal would be selling of the seeds and plants in online and physical spaces, escapes from cultivated gardens, and disturbance of naturalized areas.
Impact of Virginia Creeper
How does the Virginia creeper affect the environment in which it grows? Does it affect the people occupying the invaded area? Studies show that the uncontrolled growth of this creeper can cause damage to natural spaces such as shrubs and forests.
When the vine establishes, it weeds out the native species. Also, when the tendrils adhere to permanent structures, removing them causes damage to the surfaces. Eradicating this weed also costs a lot of money, and failure to do so can result in a health and safety hazard.
People need to note that this vine is quite aggressive in its growth, and they should thus seek an alternative when it comes to ornamentals. It spreads along the ground as well as by climbing surfaces.
As it does so, it creates shade that prevents vegetation from getting adequate access to sunlight. Native species suffer as a result of this, and they thus end up dying and reducing in numbers. As the creeper covers a host tree, it adds to the weight of the tree.
In this way, branches can break off. There have been cases where a canopy collapsed under the pressure of the weight. As they vine continues to entangle a tree, it can strangle its host. Also, the added weight makes the host tree susceptible to falling in the presence of strong winds.
The fruits produced by this creeper contain oxalic acid, which is toxic to humans when ingested. Thus, having this creeper in an area with children can have devastating effects.
Additionally, the sap contains oxalate crystals, which have been proven to irritate the skin and cause rashes.
What are the benefits of Virginia Creeper?
Given the adverse effects of this plant, does it have a good side to it? The good thing is that this creeper is not all bad, and there are some benefits to its presence as follows:
Where an area is sloppy, people can rely on the Virginia creeper as a way to firm the soil. In this way, the chances of soil erosion would reduce. This tactic also works in shaded regions.
Tons of animals depend on this vine’s fruits as a source of food. Examples would include birds, squirrels, cattle, deer, mice, and chipmunks. Yes, Alvin eats this weed!
Also, the vine provides cover for small animals owing to its blanket-like cover. Plus, it provides an ideal nesting place for birds and also serves as a perch.
Did you know that people have often relied on this vine as a source of medicine? Yes, the bark of this vine works as an expectorant and cough remedy, as well as a tonic. The berries, too, are quite useful as they work for rheumatic treatments. The roots come in handy for stomach upsets.
The main reason why this vine spread so fast was for its aesthetic benefits. In fall, when other plants are losing their foliage, the leaves on this vine remain intact.
You can use it to cover bare ground, unsightly rock piles, walls, and anything else you want to hide. However, doing so would be unwise, given the adverse effects of this creeper.
Control methods of Virginia Creeper
Dealing with this creeper is necessary to prevent it from spreading to other areas. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. Not only is the process of removing this vine expensive, but it is also challenging.
Suppose it has adhered to a wall, getting rid of it would be hard as the tendrils stick to the surface. Removal would thus call for intensive means, which would probably damage the wall. The situation gets worse when there is wood in play as removal gets harder.
If you choose to deal with the vine using chemicals, this is possible. However, it is essential to abide by the chemical regulations in your area.
Consulting the relevant authority is always a good measure before investing in any product. Once you get a certified chemical, you can then use it based on the manufacturer’s guidelines.
As is the case with most things, prevention is better than cure. If you can avoid spreading the vine, it is best to do so. Educate people on the dangers of this creeper.
If you come across anyone selling it, alert them on the effects of this. Where any vines sprout, deal with them immediately as the long-term costs could be unmanageable. Here is how you can control this vine:
Where the infestation is low, you can start by cutting the leaves and the stems to make it easier to get to the roots. Doing this without dealing with the roots would not have much of an effect on the vines.
It is thus necessary that you follow through with digging out the roots and removing all the fragments. You should be careful when doing this, as leaving any root sections can cause re-sprouting.
Where the vines grow along the ground, you can reduce their numbers by burning them. Ideally, this should take place towards the beginning of spring. Alternatively, you could cut the stems at the base.
Fire has proven to be effective in dealing with this creeper, more so when used under the vines. In this way, you can deal with all new growths and young seedlings.
There are many herbicides that you can use in controlling this creeper, as long as they are applicable in your region.
In most cases, one application of a chemical will not be adequate to deal with a large infestation. However, if you follow up with treatments, the application should be successful.
You can get better results from integrating chemical and manual means. Start by digging up the vines and then deal with the re-sprouts using approved chemicals.
When choosing what method is best for your outdoors, you should consider the size of the infestation. Also, consider the availability of native species and the effects of the chosen control methods on them.
You should also think about how much time and money you wish to invest in dealing with the creeper.
It will take a while before you can bid goodbye to this invasive species. But as long as you keep at it and avoid re-introducing it, your land should be free of this weed in a few years.
- Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia – https://www.gloucesterva.info/DocumentCenter/View/4158/Virginia-Creeper-November-2016-PDF
- Parthenocissus quinquefolia – https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/44676
- Plant of the Week: Virginia Creeper – https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/virginia-creeper.aspx