Virginia creeper

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Family: Vitaceae

Natural History
Palmately-compound leaves of Virginia creeper
Photo credit: James H. Miller & Ted Bodner,
Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

Virginia creeper grows on a wide variety of sites from moist and shady to open and dry. It is found in forest plantations, mature forests, forest margins, and is most plentiful in open mixed upland forests. Virginia creeper is found in most of the eastern United States between Texas and Florida in the south, to Minnesota and Canada in the north.

Songbirds are the principal consumers of Virginia creeper fruit but woodpeckers, thrushes, deer, squirrels, and other small animals also eat them. Cattle and deer sometimes browse the foliage. It provides cover for many small birds and mammals and is used for watershed protection and erosion control. The bark was once used medicinally.

Virginia creeper is a woody, deciduous vine that can be identified by its compound leaves with five leaflets. It has long leaf stems and climbs by tendrils with adhesive disks that look like the small suction pads on lizards' feet. If you pull a Virginia creeper vine off a wall, fence, or tree, the adhesive disks and parts of the tendrils remain stuck behind.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Virginia creeper grows on sites ranging from moist and shady to open and dry including new and old forests and forest margins. It can also be found on the borders of clearings and along fencerows and streambanks.
Size/Form: It is a high climbing or trailing woody vine that reaches up to 90' long. It climbs by many branched tendrils with adhesive disks or covers the ground by taking root. Given enough time it can completely cover walls, fences, small buildings, and trees.
Stem: New stems are brownish-green and finely hairy but they gradually acquire pale, raised dots and turn purplish-brown with age. Tendrils along the stems occur opposite to the leaves of growing shoots and may end in adhesive discs or shrivel.
Leaves: The leaves are palmately compound, alternate, and deciduous. They generally have five leaflets that spread out like fingers on a hand. The leaflets are longer than they are wide, 2" to 6" long by 1½" to 3" wide. Leaflets are ovate, elliptic, or obovate in outline. The lower leaflet surface is lighter and sometimes covered with short hairs. The leaflet margins are serrate above the middle. The leaflets turn dark red to purple in the fall.
Fruit: The fruit is a round berry, ¼" wide, and is black to dark blue when it ripens between October and December. The outside of the fruit is covered in a white, waxy substance.

 

Images

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Vine tip with tendrils. Palmately-compound leaf with five leaflets. Grape-like fruit. Autumn foliage on a tree trunk.
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

 

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