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Virginia Creeper Is in the Ivy League

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Parthenocissus quinquefolia Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

When it comes to a fast-growing vine to cover an arbor or trellis, Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, just might fit the bill. Many gardeners are turning away from traditional vines like Chinese wisteria and English ivy due to their tendency to invade natural areas. Virginia creeper, a North Carolina native, is a worthy alternative.

With its rapid growth rate, Virginia creeper can quickly cover a trellis. It would be equally happy climbing a fence, which would make a nice backdrop for a perennial border. The large leaves are deeply lobed into five leaflets, adding a nice texture to the garden. Although the flowers are inconspicuous, the foliage of this deciduous vine turns a wonderful shade of burgundy prior to fall leaf drop. The blue-black berries also add a nice touch to the autumn landscape. Keep in mind that the berries are very poisonous to humans, but will be thoroughly enjoyed by the neighborhood birds. For best growth, plant in good soil in full sun to part shade.

Like English ivy, Virginia creeper also can serve as a groundcover. Regular trimming will be required to keep this fast-growing plant from invading adjacent areas. Though it will look great climbing an arbor, keep this and most other vines off of trees and houses. The vines add excess weight to limbs during winter ice storms, and the climbing tendrils can damage the siding and paint on your house.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

The Oriental version of this vine,Parthenocissus tricuspidata, or Boston ivy, is the trademark plant of the Ivy League universities. Virginia creeper may not be a show-stopper, but this versatile and durable vine can certainly serve as one of the backbone plants of your landscape. Consider one of the green and white variegated varieties such as ‘Star Showers” or ‘Variegata’.

See the true diversity of the genus at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. In addition to the curiously variegated Virginia creeper in the Klein-Pringle White Garden, the glowing, yellow-green ‘Fenway Park’ version of P. tricuspidata is making quick work of a concrete column that supports the McSwain Center.

Paul McKenzie