Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper)
|Also known as:||Woodbine|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; average to moist soil; deciduous woods, thickets, bluffs, fencerows,|
|Bloom season:||June - July|
|Plant height:||to 90 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Branching clusters 3 to 6 inches long, the cluster typically with a well-defined central stalk that may zig-zag between the main branches, and 80 to 150+ flowers per cluster.
Flowers are about ¼ inch across, greenish yellow with 5 (occasionally 6) oblong-elliptic petals that are boat-shaped at the tip, and initially spreading then become strongly bent back (reflexed). In the center are an equal number of stamens with creamy yellow tips. Flower stalks are up to ¼ inch long, smooth to sparsely hairy, green to reddish.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are alternate, palmately compound with 5 leaflets, occasionally 4, rarely 3 or 7, the middle leaflet largest, up to 6 inches long and 2½ inches wide, the end leaflets smallest. Leaflets are elliptical to nearly diamond shaped, usually widest at or above the middle, coarsely toothed at least on the tip half, tapering to a sharply pointed tip, mostly wedge-shaped at the base, stalkless to short-stalked. The upper surface is usually dull green though may be shiny when young, sparsely to moderately stiff-hairy especially along the veins; the lower surface is somewhat paler and usually short-hairy. Leaflet stalks are usually hairy.
The compound leaf stalk is up to 6 inches long and variously hairy. Opposite the stalk is a tendril with up to 10 branches, the branches each up to 1½ inches long and developing an adhesive pad at the tip when it comes in contact with a surface it can climb.
New stems are hairy, initially green to yellowish brown, becoming brown and woody with pale lenticels (pores). Older bark is gray-brown and hairless. Plants climbing on trees develop aerial roots on the main stem and branches. Stems can reach nearly 3 inches in diameter, are usually high-climbing, sometimes crawling along the ground.
The flower stalks elongate slightly and turn bright red as fruit develops. Fruit is a round, blue-black berry about 1/3 inch in diameter, containing 2 or 3 seeds, maturing in late summer.
Virginia Creeper and Woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta or P. vitacea) are often treated as one species, the names interchangeable, but they are indeed different with a couple obvious distinctions and several subtle differences. The obvious distinctions are: Virginia Creeper has aerial roots, hairy leaf stalks and new stems, and tendrils with up to 10 short branches (1½ inches long or less) that eventually develop flat adhesive disks or pads at the tip; Woodbine lacks aerial roots, has hairless stalks and stems, and its tendrils branch only 2 or 3 times, the branches more than 1½ inches long and not normally developing disks at the tip, but wedge themselves into cracks and expand to hold themselves in place (this expansion may appear to be a disk, but is not adhesive, and according to Welby Smith's “Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota”, Woodbine may actually develop the disks on occasion). Note the only other vine in Minnesota with aerial roots is Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).
There are several more subtle differences between the two. Virginia Creeper tends to be high-climbing, though may sprawl when there is nothing to climb, where Woodbine is more often sprawling but does also climb up trees, fences and other structures. Virginia Creeper flower clusters usually have a well-defined central stalk (not always an obvious trait) and often 150+ flowers in a cluster, where Woodbine has forked branches without a central axis and tends to be fewer flowered, only to 75 flowers per cluster. Virginia Creeper leaflets are usually dull green, though may be shiny when young, where Woodbine leaflets tend to be shiny but can lose their sheen with age. Both surfaces of Virginia Creeper leaflets are usually stiff hairy, especially along the veins, where Woodbine leaflets are more often hairless, especially along veins on the upper surface, though the lower surface of leaflets can be short-hairy. All of these traits are variable, so any one of them should not be taken individually, but in combination with each other and the more obvious differences. Look first for the aerial roots, hairs on stems and stalks, and number and length of tendril branches. Go from there.
Considering these two species are so easily confused, it is possible that some of the herbarium records for P. quinquefolia are actually P. inserta. The DNR's MNTaxa map shows it only present from the Carver-Scott-Dakota county lines south, plus Isanti County, though I've personally seen it in southern Washington County as well.
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- Virginia Creeper plant
- Virginia Creeper plants
- high-climbing Virginia Creeper plant
- Virginia Creeper plant on a bluff wall
- crawling Virginia Creeper
- new growth with shiny leaves and hairy stems
- scan of leaves
- hairs on lower leaf surface
- hairs along veins on upper leaf surface
- tendrils have up to 10 branches, initially lack adhesive disks
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Carpenter Nature Center, Washington County, and in Fillmore County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore and Wabasha counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?
on: 2017-04-07 16:08:24
We found this growing on our fence when we bought a house last year. We were worried about the integrity of the fence, and about potential toxicity to people or pets, so we ended up removing as much as we could.
on: 2018-06-06 15:52:38
climbing up the cotton wood trees and growing into the yard
on: 2018-08-15 22:35:33
I believe this is one of the vines I have growing in my back yard along the river bank. I also have either river bank or summer grapes there, in addition to many other beneficial and ivasive plants. Even though I suspected one of these were grapes and not sure which one, I decided to educate myself and appreciate this site.
on: 2018-09-02 20:38:12
I've had this growing in my yard along the fenceline for years. I just recently learned what it is.
on: 2018-09-02 20:42:11
Jennifer, per the county distribution map, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is limited to SE MN so in Clearwater County what you have is woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta).
on: 2019-05-10 00:00:19
This vine has been growing on my backyard fence and the back of my house in Red Lake County since I moved in a few years ago. I was worried about the destruction it might cause, but it is just to beautiful to remove completely.
on: 2019-10-02 11:32:31
Beautiful red leaves wound around a tall tree in the North Woods, last weekend of September.
on: 2019-10-02 12:25:34
Anya, per the county distribution map, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is limited to SE MN so in St. Louis County what you have is woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta).
on: 2020-05-25 14:15:50
Virginia Creeper all over wooded areas here. Very noticeable climbing high in brush/trees, especially cedar trees.
on: 2020-05-25 19:04:03
Tanya, woodbine (P. inserta)is often confused with Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia)and is more likely what you have in abundance in rural Stearns County. Both can climb trees but only P. quinquefolia has the tell-tale aerial roots.
on: 2020-07-01 10:25:21
Virginia Creeper vs Woodbine
1) which will work best on wire mesh fencing 6ft high x 40 ft long? Fence is in shaded area.
2) Which can be trimmed easier? I don't want it to grow over the top of the fence...too much. Is a metal mesh fence staked every 5ft strong enough?
3) How far apart and how deep to plant either one?
4) Where can I get one of these? I've looked all over the cities...Gertens, Bachmans, etc., to no avail! I will travel out of the cities to purchase if necessary!
Thank you I advance for your advice! Take care!
on: 2020-07-01 13:07:30
Colleen, we don't know much about cultivating either one and we don't track who sells what, but you may be able to find one or both at native plant nurseries. See "where to buy native seeds and plants" that is on most pages of this website. The vendor should be able to advise you on planting.
on: 2021-09-19 11:12:01
We have so many vining plants growing on things and have had a lot of different opinions about what things are including elderberry and nightshade. How do I tell the difference?
on: 2021-09-19 12:25:46
Patty, berries might be similar across species, but the leaves should be distinctive for each - those of elderberry, wild grape, Virginia creeper/woodbine, and nightshades are not really similar in any respect.
on: 2021-09-22 20:12:28
My neighbor told me that virginia creeper will kill a pine tree by overtaking and shading out the sun for the pine. Can this be true? I have been pulling it out of the smaller pines just in case!
on: 2021-09-23 03:35:12
Rebecca, we are not aware of Virginia creeper killing off pines or anything else. Having said that, in cultivation many native plants can be more aggressive than you may like, vines in particular.
on: 2022-07-03 19:03:17
Grows on the fence in my backyard.
on: 2022-07-04 07:27:13
K, the natural range of Virginia creeper doesn't extend to St Louis County, so you would have woodbine (P. inserta) on your fence. You could also look for aerial roots, but it is unlikely there would be no place for them to embed themselves on a fence.