Virginia creeper is another aggressive native vine

Ted Manzer column logo

ted manzer


By Ted Manzer

Friday, June 29, 2018

Last week I profiled trumpet vine, a ridiculously aggressive woody vine. This week belongs to another nemesis, and it’s also marketed as an ornamental.

Virginia creeper is that vine many people confuse with poison ivy. It has leaves with five leaflets instead of three. Berries are purple instead of white. It also doesn’t have the same hairiness on the stems. This material is root tissue that clings to things. Correctly they are referred to as adventitious aerial roots.

Unlike poison ivy, Virginia creeper doesn’t contain urushiol, which causes the running sores resulting from poison ivy exposure. Some folks experience a minor and short-term irritation from it. In addition, it is far more aggressive than poison ivy and covers landscaping and buildings in a fraction of the time.

Virginia creeper doesn’t climb exclusively by adventitious roots. It has tendrils like grape vines do. One would expect this, as it is in the grape family. These woody vines can grow to the tops of most trees and up and down utility poles.

Virginia creeper produces fruits that look like miniature grapes. However, they are poisonous in large quantities. These berries don’t taste very good, so children likely won’t eat enough to cause serious problems. Birds and squirrels will eat these fruits, though, and spread the seeds everywhere. Pretty soon, you will find seedlings all over your yard.

Sometimes pets will eat these vines and results are variable. Plants contain oxalate compounds which can lead to kidney problems or mouth irritations. Usually large quantities must be eaten.

For those who want native landscaping, this one fits the bill. However, its aggressiveness will frustrate you. It thrives in sun or shade. Technically, it’s not considered invasive, since it’s native. That’s just semantics. This is not a plant to encourage. You won’t be able to contain it.

I admit it has beautiful red foliage in the fall, but so does poison ivy. I can tolerate wisteria. It has beautiful fragrant flowers, and it doesn’t spread as fast from seeds.

Round-up is effective for killing Virginia creeper. Unfortunately, it kills whatever it hits, so you must pull the vines off the plants first. Round-up also kills grass, so laying vines on your lawn to be sprayed isn’t the answer either. Cutting the vines down and treating freshly cut stumps with concentrated Round-up is the best solution.

Vines encroaching onto the lawn can be controlled by broadleaf herbicides like 2,4-D, dicamba, or mecaprop. A combination of the three works well, too. These chemicals are effective for lawn use only. They will kill most flowers, shrubs and trees.

The important thing to remember is to not let this plant get ahead of you. It’s a fast grower and can destroy landscaping quickly. It also will ruin siding.

Also, don’t assume you’ve solved the problem after your initial treatment. Several applications are usually necessary to get it all. Seeds can also remain dormant and new plants can pop up at any time. Don’t get talked into planting this one. The longer you have it the more you will hate it.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.