Parthenocissus quinquefolia (L.) Planch.

Virginia Creeper


CC = 3
CW = 3
MOC = 83

© SRTurner

Family - Vitaceae

Habit - Lianas, climbing in trees or sometimes only scrambling on the ground.

Stems - Scrambling or climbing, to 30 m or more long, the older stems producing coarse aerial roots for anchors when climbing. Young stems glabrous or minutely hairy. Some nodes with tendrils, these with 5-8 branches, most of the tips with small circular adhesive discs.

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_stem.jpg Stem and tendrils with adhesive disks.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Alternate, long-petiolate, once palmately compound, usually with 5 leaflets. Leaflets 5-15 cm long, elliptic to obovate, tapered or narrowed at the base, tapered to a sharply pointed tip, the margins sharply toothed mostly above the midpoint, herbaceous or somewhat papery, not thickened, dull, glabrous, and dark green on the upper surface, paler, glabrous or hairy, and sometimes slightly glaucous on the undersurface.

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_leaf1.jpg Leaf adaxial.

© SRTurner

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_leaf2a.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescences - Opposite leaf bases, mostly longer than wide, usually with a zigzag central axis and the main branches repeatedly dichotomously forked, the 25-200 flowers in small umbellate clusters at the branch tips.

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Perfect or functionally staminate or pistillate, hypogynous, actinomorphic. Calyces fused into a low spreading collar, this sometimes shallowly 4-or 5-lobed. Corollas of mostly 4 or 5 free petals. Stamens mostly 4 or 5 (produced but somewhat reduced and nonfunctional in pistillate flowers), opposite the petals, the anthers minute, attached near their midpoint. Nectar disc present, reduced and fused to the ovary. Pistil 1 per flower (reduced and nonfunctional in staminate flowers), of usually 2 fused carpels. Ovary superior (but sometimes appearing somewhat sunken into the nectar disc), 2-locular, each locule with 2 ovules, the placentation more or less basal. Style 1, the stigma minute, unlobed or slightly 2-lobed.

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_flowers.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_flower.jpg Flower.

© SRTurner

Parthenocissus_quinquefolia_flowers2.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Globose berries 5-8 mm in diameter, with 1-4 seeds, these 3.5-4.0 mm long, the surface smooth to finely wrinkled, shiny, brown to dark brown.

Flowering - May - August.

Habitat - Bottomland and mesic forests, bluffs, streambanks, fencerows, fields, pastures, roadsides, railroads, shaded disturbed areas.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Parthenocissus vitacea. Distantly, Toxicodendron radicans.

Other info. - This familiar species is common across all of Missouri, as well as most of the eastern half of the continental U.S. It is easily recognized by its vining habit and palmately compound leaves which typically have five leaflets. Although Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) is listed as a lookalike, the two actually look very little alike except that both are commonly found vining on trees. Some of the confusion might arise from the insidious habit of poison ivy to conceal itself within lush growths of Virginica creeper, accounting for many cases of inadvertent exposure and possibly leading to the impression that the five-leafed plant was the cause of an itchy rash! A much closer lookalike is P. vitacea, which has very similar leaves but inflorescences which are more broadly branched. That plant also lacks the adhesive disks on the tendrils. P. vitacea is rare in Missouri.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia seems to flower only infrequently, almost never when sprawled on the ground or affixed to tree trunks. Flowering sections of vine are usually those which hang down from above.

Photographs taken at Busch Greenway / Duckett Creek, St. Charles County, MO, 6-29-2015, along the Katy Trail near Treloar, Warren County, MO, 7-16-2020, and near Labadie, Franklin County, MO, 7-17-2020 (SRTurner).