Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is at its showiest in autumn. The leaves of this native vine turn bright scarlet, a perfect offset for its ripening fruit. It’s especially striking where it has found a platform to climb.
Virginia Creeper is typically found in woodlands, wood’s edges and fields. It grows as a ground cover,
but can also climb trees
and fences or arbors.
It climbs in a gentle way, using its tendrils. the tips of the tendrils form a suction cup-like pad at their tips that can cling to bark, fences and arbors.
Where Virginia Creeper gets enough sun it will flower, typically in mid-summer.
The flowers offer nectar and pollen that are attractive to many bee species. If the bees are successful in assisting Virginia Creeper with pollination, berries develop and ripen in late summer and fall.
At the same time that Virginia Creeper’s leaves are changing color, its fruit stems (petioles) also turn scarlet, a striking contrast to the fruit that ripens to a deep blue. This colorful display is an advertisement that attracts birds to feast on the luscious fruit. Virginia Creeper has evolved to attract animals to eat its fruit and subsequently disperse its seeds. The seeds go through the animal’s digestive tract, and are eventually deposited complete with natural fertilizer in another location.
Birds including Woodpeckers, Titmice, Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Thrushes, Robins, Catbirds and more flock to this autumn food source. On a recent fall day, I watched Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and several sparrows taking advantage of Virginia Creeper’s bounty.
Because of its habitat, habit of climbing, and color, Virginia Creeper is sometimes mistaken for Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), but they are easy to tell apart. Poison Ivy has compound leaves with three leaflets, while Virginia Creeper’s compound leaves have five leaflets, reflected in its scientific name, ‘quinquefolia’, which means five-leaved.
Mature Poison Ivy vines have very hairy stems, while Virginia Creeper’s bark is not hairy. Virginia Creeper has exfoliating bark typical of other members of its family, the Grape (Vitaceae) family. The bark may be used by birds for nesting material.
Virginia Creeper has other characteristics in common with its family members. For example, its fruit clusters may resemble a bunch of grapes.
Virginia Creeper is also a food plant for the caterpillars of several moth species that specialize on grape family members. Among them are the regal-looking Eight-spotted Forester,
and the Grape-leaf Skeletonizer.
The caterpillars may successfully complete metamorphosis, or they may become food for resident birds or other wildlife. Insects, especially caterpillars, are an important source of food for birds.
Virginia Creeper is also known by the common name Woodbine. It is native in the eastern two-thirds of the United States and Canada.
At different times of the year Virginia Creeper provides fruit, caterpillars, and nesting material. Its dense leafy cover can also be a good place to take shelter. What more could a bird ask for?
Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania. 2007
Stearn, William T. Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names. 1996
Audubon – 10 Plants for a Bird-friendly Yard
University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources Plant Database
Oh my gosh! I’ve been pulling a plant that I now believe is Virginia Creeper. I thought is was an invasive, along the the English Ivy and Vinca that I want to eradicate from my yard.
It’s not too late! Now you know you can leave it be.
Yes, this vine has many positives, especially its fall colors. The name woodbine gives me pause. Doesn’t it share the tree-killing habits of ivies, bittersweet, & other noxious plants?
It’s actually pretty benign on trees.
Must live in Virginia Creeper heaven (North Fork of Long Island, New York) because it comes up everywhere, in my garden, my driveway, my yard. If I didn’t know better, I would think of it as an invasive because of its reproductive abilities!
Great post! I love the creeper! There’s so much to love ❤️
Glad you like the post. I agree, there is so much to love! People just need to know about it.
Do you know whether native birds have problems detoxifying English ivy fruit? I’ve read a few comments to that effect but never with supporting literature or even observations. They look very similar to Virginia creeper and and often high up in trees next to each other. Great photographs.
I’m not sure, but I don’t think English Ivy fruit is toxic to native birds. There is a little info here (scroll down to seed dispersal): https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/vine/hedhel/all.html
Great post! Such an underappreciated plant; many people even think it should be removed from trees.
There are some vines that should definitely be removed – the non-native, invasive Oriental Bittersweet is the best example. But Virginia Creeper is a gentle climber, and seems to be a good plant community member. Gland you enjoyed the post!
I love your pictures in white and red, especially the Cedar Waxwing and an Eastern Bluebird eating Virginia Creeper…
Mary Anne, I really enjoyed this post and now have renewed admiration for the Virginia Creeper that appears here and there in our yard. I will be ensuring that it has a more prominent place in our landscape (and things to climb on – may plant some to climb our dying ashes) next year, and I’ll be looking for some of those caterpillars and butterflies too!
Good plan! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
Great post. It just occurred to me that I’ve never noticed mine flowering or fruiting in the thirty years I’ve been here! Must pay closer attention next season.
I have some in my garden as a groundcover, and it doesn’t flower. But in the trees nearby where it can climb and get some sun, it does. Glad you enjoyed the post!
I love Virginia creeper, too, but I’ve discovered that its suction cups pull the paint off painted surfaces.
Thanks for the tip. Sounds like it’s probably best to use it on unpainted surfaces. I don’t let it creep up on the siding on my house, for example.
I have it all over the back of my stucco house, and it comes down with a gentle tug – although I rarely pull on it anymore. I’ve also made a pergola over our outside dining area and it’s completely covered the roof rafters. My plant is about 15 years old and it adds so much beauty to the yard. Right now with fall approaching, it’s covered in bees 🐝 which warms my heart.
The most attractive and informative post yet. I enjoyed your description of this magnificent plant “playing well with others” as we are learning about the intelligence of plants. Your descriptions of the grape-like qualities are helpful as is the contrast with poison ivy. I enjoyed your photos and will be on the lookout for those beautiful butterflies. Thanks for this morning’s gift.
Thanks, Patricia! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Hope to see you soon!
Delightful and educational as always.
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Wonderful post on the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). I am always learning from you! And now I am re-motivated to get my blog going again! https://brtthome.com/
Thanks a lot!
Thanks, Tom! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
Mary Anne: Wonderful post! We’ve had an abundance of fruiting on the Virginia Creepers this year, but I had no idea how many bird species forage the berries. I really envy your Bluebird and Waxwing populations; we have so few Blue Birds, who seem to be driven out more and more by the Wrens. Beautiful, gorgeous shots of both in your blog — wow! Sad to see so many dying ash trees serving mainly as climbing poles for Creeper, but it’s great to know the Creeper is so high value! Thanks!
Thanks, Joe! I took the Bluebird and Cedar Waxwing shots at BHWP, in the meadow!
I so enjoy your posts Mary Anne. Thank you for all the great information and amazing photographs!