Over the years we’ve looked at some common Ohio vines- Wild Grape, Poison Ivy, and various summer blooming vines– and there’s another very common one that gets far less press. This is a good time of the year to talk about it, since it is getting very colorful and is bearing fruit now. Let’s take a look at the Virginia Creeper.
Virginia Creeper is sometimes known as Five-Leafed Ivy or Five-Fingers. These alternate names reflect its most noticeable feature- its five-leaf clusters of jagged leaves. Scientifically-speaking, the leaves are palmately compound, meaning they are all joined at a central point.
Occasionally mistaken for Poison Ivy, you just need to remember that the latter has three leaves. Both have tiny flowers that are easy to miss., and both vines are very common. Virginia Creeper is found all over the United States and southern Canada save for the far west.
This vine is a member of the Grape family, and like Wild Grape can be found in woodlands and wood edges as well as fencerows and thickets. It can smother other plants, and its extensive root system is hard to eradicate. Virginia Creeper vine has been known to penetrate stone walls into cellars.
It is easy to see growing up trees and telephone poles, but if you look at woodland undergrowth you will find a lot of it growing along the ground, again similar to Poison Ivy.
Deer and rabbits eat this vine, which is fortunate because of its sheer abundance.
In the autumn, the leaves turn red before tree leaves do. This adds early color to the landscape.
Also in autumn, the vine produces berries, which swiftly turn to dark purple, looking similar to Wild Grapes. They are an important food source in winter for birds; foxes and skunks also eat them. Humans, please do not eat- the berries contain toxic amounts of oxalic acid which can cause kidney damage, even death. Wild Grapes are wonderfully tart to eat now, just make sure you identify them correctly!
Virginia Creeper joins Wild Grape and Poison Ivy as the most common vines in Ohio wooded areas. Take a look around the next walk you take around any woods- you’ll see plenty of them I bet.