Mariton: Virginia Creeper
by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager. Photos by Carole Mebus.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissis quinquefolia) leaves are turning a brilliant scarlet now. This woody vine is in the Vine (Vitaceae) Family which also includes grapes. You can see that the fruit in the above photo resemble grapes. The fruit is an important bird food and attractive to the thrushes like Bluebirds, Robins, and Hermit Thrushes. We also see woodpeckers, Chickadees, Titmice and Catbirds eating the fruit.
The vine can get pretty thick, but I’ve never seen it damage its host tree. Virginia Creeper vines sport tendrils that have flat discs that tenaciously adhere to the tree. Because of the many tendrils and the red leaves in fall, many people confuse this vine with Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The red “hairy” tendrils of Poison Ivy are easy to differentiate from the tendrils of Virginia Creeper. Creeper has five leaflets (thus quinquefolia which means 5 leaves) versus Poison Ivy’s three. In fact there is a rhyme to help school children remember the difference: “Leaves of three; let it be. Leaves of five; let it thrive.” Some people dislike all vines, but Virginia Creeper is a great vine to have around. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t tell P.I. by its red shiny leaves because for much of the summer the leaf is a flat green.