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The Native Virginia Creeper Still Popular in American Gardens

In my photos from the California trip I made a few weeks ago, I found an image of the vine called Virginia creeper, climbing up the wall near a window at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook Winery in Rutherford.  The leaves were turning a bit crimson at one spot on the wall, a sign of autumn in the air.

For a long time I thought this native plant was invasive and ought to be avoided.  Now I even see new varieties appearing on the market at the local nursery.

Virginia creeper, or Parthenocissus quinquefolia, an easy to grow vine, has a long history in this country.

The James Vick Seed Company offered it in the company catalog of 1890 under the name Ampelopsis quinquefolia.  The seeds he offered cost only ten cents.  Another name for the plant was ‘American Ivy’ since it was often compared to Boston ivy, which is not a native plant but from Asia.

Today the grower Proven Winners offers  a new variety of Virginia creeper called ‘Red Wall’ which I planted last summer. It, of course, has bright red color in the fall, with blue fruit.  This summer I saw a little growth but I am not worried since I know it takes a while for this vine to reach its potential.  The Boston Ivy I planted took several years to cover a wall.

Virginia Creeper climing the wall here at Francis Ford Copola's Ingkenook Winnery.
The Virginia creeper vine climbs  the wall here at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook Winnery in Rutherford, California.

Even though it is a native plant, American garden writers have long praised the Virginia creeper. In 1903 Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer wrote in her book Art Out-of-Doors: Hints on Good Taste in Gardening, “The Virginia-creeper adapts itself in the most versatile way to supports as it may find, now twining around a fence or lattice and throwing out long free streamers, and now spreading a flat yet gracefully flowing mantle over wide, plain walls.”

Virginia creeper is native to the eastern United States.  Donald Wyman wrote in the 1949 edition of his book Shrubs and Vines for American Gardens: “All turn a vivid scarlet in the fall and are about the first of the wood plants to show fall color. Because of its wide distribution and its general usefulness, it should not be omitted from any list of vines.”

Caution, however, ought guide any gardener thinking of planting this vine. Many gardeners recommend you avoid planting it on a building, but let it grow freely on an outside wall or fence, at a distance from the house. Virginia creeper may harm the clapboards of a house once it becomes established.

I planted the ‘Red Wall’ variety on a stone wall along the road so there is no need to worry about damaging the walls of the house.

This vine resembles poison ivy, but poison ivy has three leaflets that make up the leave, and Virginia creeper has five. The Latin word ‘quinquefolia’ means five.

In my garden I often see Virginia creeper growing wild and spreading along the ledge that covers a great deal of my property.  You can be sure I count the leaves.



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