Virginia creeper is a ubiquitous native vine or groundcover that deserves a place in the landscape. In fact, you may already have it growing outside your door, and you’re not even aware of it. Unfortunately, Virginia creeper is often mistaken for that other touch-me-not native creeping shrub or climbing vine, poison ivy. For the record, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has five leaflets as its specific epithet implies (quinquefolia is Greek for “five-leaved” although technically these are leaflets), while poison ivy has 3. Hence the rhyming warning: “leaves of three, let it be” or “berries white, run in fright.”
Virginia creeper can go vertical like Spider-Man and climb using tendrils equipped with adhesive discs. Be aware that as it cements itself to structures, it may mar its appearance when it’s removed. Some surfaces, particularly wood and stucco, may be damaged when the stems are detached.
Virginia creeper can also crawl horizontally on the ground, forming roots along its stems to create a seamless groundcover. Greenish-white flowers appear in early summer but are hidden by the leaves; however, their blue berries offer visual interest to us (they are toxic to humans) and sustenance to birds and other wildlife. For more information on attracting wildlife, see HGIC 1700, Attracting and Feeding Songbirds; HGIC 2900, Backyard Wildlife Enhancement; and HGIC Gardening for Warblers.
Virginia creeper’s greatest claim to fame is its brilliant fiery red to maroon fall color. Whether it’s growing up a tree trunk or scaling a chain-link fence, its spectacular fall color can rival the autumn-colored leaves of Virginia sweetspire and oakleaf hydrangea. If you prefer yellow fall color, consider adding ‘Yellow Wall’ to your garden. A variegated cultivar, ‘Monham’ (Star Showers® PP10,128), has green leaves speckled and splotched with white, and in the fall, the green turns red and the white to pink. NOTE: ‘Monham’ requires extra attention to remove any shoots whose leaves revert to solid green.
For full sun or shade, Virginia creeper does double-duty as a vine and groundcover. Some consider it exuberant and others as weedy (see Weed of the Month—Virginia creeper). My opinion: Virginia creeper is a drought-tolerant, low maintenance vine that needs to be correctly identified and used in your landscape. For more information on growing Virginia creeper, see HGIC 1101, Vine Selections for Landscaping; and HGIC 1716, Plants for Shade.