Leaves of 5, Let It Thrive

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a wide-ranging, high-climbing woody vine that often brings smidges of seasonal color. Also known as woodbind, American ivy, and fire-leaved ivy, Virginia creeper grows from Quebec through the Northeast U.S. to Florida, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Bermuda, as well as westward to Minnesota and Utah. In cooler climes Virginia creeper is deciduous, but around here this fast-growing vine is semi-deciduous, almost always retaining some of its leaves.

Virginia creeper often grows in the same vicinity as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Poison ivy has 3 leaflets. Virginia creeper has 5 leaflets that are coarsely toothed and palmately divided. Its species name, quinquefolia, means 5-leaved. The sage old adage goes: Leaves of 3, let it be; Leaves of 5, let it thrive.

Clusters of tiny whitish-greenish flowers adorn Virginia creeper in spring and are pollinated by bees and other insects.

Flowers and fruits sometimes occur at the same time. Unripe berries are green and ripen to be dark bluish black. They are eaten and dispersed by songbirds, woodpeckers, deer, squirrels, and other small animals. The berries are poisonous to people due to the presence of raphides, tiny oxalate crystals. If chewed, the berries can irritate your lips, mouth, tongue, and throat.

The berries germinate readily, sometimes in the midst of landscape plants beneath power lines and other places where birds perch. Growth is swift, and this vine can be pretty aggressive. It climbs via specialized tendrils: Adhesive suction pads. These pads can mark painted surfaces, so care is warranted. If you are looking for a fast-growing, drought-tolerant vine to cover a chain link fence, look no further. Just be careful where you let Virginia creeper thrive.

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