Parthenocissus inserta (Woodbine)
|Also known as:||Grape-woodbine, Thicket Creeper, Virginia Creeper|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun;|
|Bloom season:||June - July|
|Plant height:||to 70 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC 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, hairless, green to reddish.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are alternate, palmately compound with 5 leaflets, occasionally 4, rarely 7, the leaflets all about the same size or the middle leaflet largest, up to 5 inches long and 2½ inches wide, and the end leaflets smallest. Leaflets are mostly oval-elliptic, usually widest at or above the middle, usually 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 shiny green when fresh, though usually loses its sheen with age, and mostly hairless or with a few sparse hairs; the lower surface is paler and hairless to short-hairy. Leaflet stalks are hairless.
The compound leaf stalk is up to 6 inches long and hairless. Opposite the stalk is a tendril branched 2 or 3 times, the branches each 1½ to 6 inches long that entwine around surrounding vegetation or embed in cracks and crevices for support. New stems are hairless, initially green to yellowish brown, becoming reddish brown and woody with pale lenticels (pores). Older bark is gray-brown. Stems can reach nearly 5 inches in diameter, are usually sprawling across the ground and over shrubs, also climbing trees, fences and other structures, may root at the nodes and become the dominant groundcover.
Woodbine, also known as Parthenocissus vitacea, and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) 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).
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.
Note that many references state the leaflets of Woodbine are hairless, but many plants we sampled were distinctly hairy on the lower surface. Hairs are more easily seen when the leaf is folded over.
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- climbing Woodbine
- crawling Woodbine
- fruiting Woodbine
- scan of leaves
- leaf with 7 leaflets
- shiny, nearly toothless leaves
- lower leaf surface may be short-hairy
- fall color
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk take at various locations across Minnesota.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?