Not a Weed: Virginia creeper

Not a Weed: Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper is a robust groundcover and vine that can blanket a flower bed and climb its way up trees. For most people, that creeping tendency and its vague resemblance to poison ivy make it undesirable. I think it’s worth reconsidering the benefits of this groundcover in place of invasive vines like English Ivy and periwinkle.

I found this eight-spotted forester moth flitting among the grapes and Virginia creeper in my garden. This moth is one of 15 species with larvae known to feed on Virginia creeper.

For one, have you ever tried to pull out the English Ivy or periwinkle (vinca species) strangling your yard? The holdfasts and roots are nearly impossible to remove, and the vines break and leave new plants ready to regrow into an impenetrable mass. On my property, the arching stems of periwinkle swallow shrubs and pull down tree saplings. English Ivy vines grow thicker and thicker by the year while climbing tree trunks and houses, to the point that they have to be sawed rather than pulled off. Meanwhile, these European vines provide little more than an excellent habitat for mosquitoes while overtaking the native plants that support hungry insects, rabbits and deer. Virginia creeper, on the other hand, is known to feed the larvae of at least 15 species of moths.

Virginia creeper, also known as Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is less aggressive than its name implies. Though it happily spreads far and wide with its leaflets of five (not three, like poison ivy), the holdfasts are easy to pull so that vines can be pruned or retrained. This member of the grape family can climb trees, but it is slower growing than wild grapes and the lightweight vines are much easier to pull down. However, you don’t want Virginia creeper growing on your house. It’s best to keeping any vines away from structures.

Virginia creeper is deciduous and turns a gorgeous red in the fall. Humans can’t eat the deep blue berries, but the birds will enjoy them. You can buy Virginia creeper from nurseries, but you may not need to spend the money. This plant grows far and wide across the Eastern U.S. Look around your property first for leaflets of five and let it grow in a convenient location. Pull up any competing, invasive vines and let the Virginia creeper thrive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *