Growing on the brick wall outside my back door is one of my favorite native vines, Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. It is a volunteer that I have allowed to grow freely, except for an occasional pruning to keep it from blocking the gutters. The thick foliage is a haven for a multitude of insects, frogs and birds.
The leaves turn a bright red color in the fall and make an impressive display. Few plants can rival the brilliant red displayed by a healthy Virginia Creeper leaf.
The plant does have one problem. Too many people are under the mistaken impression that Virginia Creeper is actually a mutant form of Poison Ivy or more commonly, they think it is Poison Oak. It bothers me to see people cut and spray a plant because of a misidentification. A Virginia Creeper leaf is composed of five leaflets, although by accident or design that number may be reduced. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak both have three leaflets. Poison Oak is also a western species, so people in the eastern
don’t have to worry about it. U.S.
Even if you were to pull a couple of leaflets off of the Virginia Creeper leaf, the difference between it and the Poison Ivy, shown on the left, is quite distinct. There are many differences in the shape and design of the leaflets, but the most easily recognized feature is the long stem at the base of the center leaflet of the Poison Ivy. The bases of the Virginia Creeper leaflets are very short and practically identical in length.
Virginia Creeper is a member of the Grape Family and the blue fruits look much like wild grapes. Birds are quick to clean up these fruits and drop the seeds over a wide area.
This particular vine was growing in the center of a drainage way, so received some additional moisture through the year. Many of the Virginia Creeper vines in upland areas failed to produce any fruit because of the ongoing drought conditions. If people would give this vine a chance, I think they would grow to like it.