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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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.
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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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- 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?