Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is the best native plant we have for competing with oriental bittersweet. This vigorous and fast growing vine does well in nearly any soil and sunlight situation.
Virginia creeper has saw-toothed, compound leaves, usually in groups of 5 leaflets. The leaves are purplish in the spring, become rather dull green in summer and then change to purple and crimson red in fall. The best fall colors occur in sunny situations. The greenish white flowers in late spring to early summer are hidden by the leaves. The dark blue berries, also hidden, become visible after the leaves fall in autumn, and though poisonous to people, are eaten by birds.
Virginia creeper can sometimes grow 20 feet in a single year and to a total length of 30 to 50 feet. It might need pruning if it is encroaching on some structure or pathway where you don’t want it to grow. It is very forgiving when pruned so no need to pay attention to looking for “old wood” or some other fussy instruction.
Virginia creeper vines are often found growing up tree trunks in native woods, but the vines can be trained to grow on a fence or arbor. Virginia creeper climbs with the aid of tendrils and aerial roots with adhesive pads. Occasionally these pads need to be pried away to prevent the vine from growing into areas they could damage. So take care when planting near buildings or masonry as some controversy exists as to whether the adhesive pads actually do damage to walls and structures. If this is a concern, confine Virginia creeper to trellises, pergolas, trees and natural settings.
Virginia creeper can sometimes be confused with poison ivy but the five leaflets will readily distinguish it. However, it is not entirely harmless, as it contains calcium oxalate or oxalic acid in the leaves and may cause a rash to sensitive persons when handled. The author has never experienced this problem though he is quite sensitive to poison ivy.
The Virginia creeper variety 'Monham', commonly sold as “Star Showers,” is noted for its "paint splatter" white markings on green leaves. It has very little fall color. Virginia creeper and Star Showers are both readily available at many nurseries both locally and by mail order.
If you have questions about virginia creeper or other native or non-native plants, don’t hesitate to contact Terry Bonace (firstname.lastname@example.org), Candice Smith (email@example.com), or Bill Schaudt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance. Also please explore our website, www.bserg.org, for further information on invasive plants and native replacements.