October Flora Spotlight:
Virginia Creeper 

Virginia Creeper
Parthenocissus quinquefolia

The scientific name for Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, literally means five-leaved virgin-ivy. Partheno- means "virgin" (as in "Virginia") and cissus translates as "ivy." Virginia creeper is, indeed, native to Virginia but is not a true ivy. The species name, quinquefolia, refers to the 5 leaflets of which each of the leaves is comprised. The second part of the common name is misleading, in that the vine is a climber, not a creeping vine. It will thrive in most soils, in sun or partial shade, wet or dry, with or without a structure to climb on.

Virginia Creeper is often mistaken for poison ivy. If you remember the phrase from your childhood you will never mistake the two plants – “leaves of three leave it be”. Virginia creeper and poison ivy do share the characteristic of turning red early in the fall. Most plants turn color because they're giving up on photosynthesis for the year, and they're losing the chlorophyll that turns their leaves green. But these vines have evolved to turn red a little earlier than they really need to. It turns out that they're colorful around the time that their berries are ripe, which serves as a loud announcement to birds to come and check them out. These blue fruits look like miniature grapes, but are poisonous. Though they are not good for humans to eat, they are enjoyed by many birds and wildlife.

Virginia Creeper is considered fairly aggressive – it can take over an area if you do not keep on top of it. This characteristic can make it a good solution for an area that needs to be covered – an ugly fence, a wall.  It makes an excellent cover for slopes or other places where grass is not practical or desired.

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