Virginia Creeper – A Guide To Parthenocissus Quinquefolia

Virigina Creeper is a woody vine native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Parthenocissus quinquefolia, it can grow upwards of 60′ climbing trees/structures, or as a ground cover in full sun. Blooming inconspicuous flowers in summer that change to berries, it is beneficial to bees, moths, birds, and mammals.

Virginia Creeper decorating a chain-link fence. Note the ripe berries.

In this article:

What is Virginia Creeper

A deciduous vine native to North America, Virginia Creeper is commonly encountered deep in forests, along fence rows, hedges, and thickets. It typically can reach 30-60′ in length and will climb any structure to obtain sunlight. Different from poison ivy, Virginia Creeper sap does not cause a rash in most people, although it is possible for some to be allergic. [1] [2]

Unique in how it climbs, the Virginia Creeper vine doesn’t wrap around objects. It has pads at the end of it’s tendrils that make a thin 3 micron thick adhesive film once in contact with a surface. So, Virginia Creeper sticks to things via glue it creates itself – kind of remarkable.[3] This makes it a great choice for growing on brick, stone, or masonry as the roots will not penetrate the pointing.

This is a useful plant for covering a trellis, shed, fence, or even to hide a dead tree. It has little suction cups that allow it to climb almost anything, and cover it with it’s beautiful dark green foliage. But not content with climbing, it can spread as a ground cover too.

{Pictured at right – Virginia Creeper climbing a dead tree}

Virginia Creeper is also not effected by Juglone, the toxic compound secreted by the Black Walnut tree. So, should you have that plant in your yard, you can easily grow Virginia Creeper along side or right up it.

Virginia Creeper versus Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper differ in appearance, toxicity, and how they grow/climb. Contact with Poison Ivy leaves will result in an itchy rash for nearly every person, whereas although Virginia Creeper can cause skin irritation, it is rare. Also, Poison Ivy attaches itself via hairy roots directly from the main vine that fill nook and crannies of bark, masonry, and brick mortar, while Virginia Creeper attaches itself via pads with self-made adhesive.

You can easily tell the difference between Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy by examining the leaves and how the plant attaches itself to a structure or tree. Poison Ivy will always have three leaves with irregular shape and margin. While Virginia Creeper will have 5 leaflets in a palmate or compound structure. Also, as previously noted there is a significant difference in how the plant attaches itself.

In general, the bark for both plants is not easily distinguished. It is quite similar for both Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy.

Characteristic differences between Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper

CharacteristicPoison IvyVirginia Creeper
Leaves3 leaflets5 leaflets
Leaf edge / marginIrregular with large serrationsMedium to finely toothed serrations
Attachment MechanismHairy roots directly from main vineTendrils with small round pads (like a suction cup)
Toxicity of leavesWill cause rashWill occasionally cause rash to some people
Sources [2]

Native Range of Virginia creeper

The native range of Virginia Creeper is everywhere East of the Rocky Mountains in North America (essentially). It’s widespread range is a testament to how adaptable it is for growing conditions, and how desirable the berries are for birds.

Native Range of Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Source [1]

Virginia Creeper Reference Table

Scientific NameParthenocissus quinquefolia
Common Name(s)Virginia Creeper, Five-fingered Ivy, Woodbine
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern North America, USDA hardiness zones 3-9
Bloom TimeMid-summer
Bloom Duration, Color3 weeks, yellow/green
Growth Rate10-20′ per year (3-6m)
Height30-60′ (10-20 m)
Spacing / Spread10′
Light RequirementsFull sun / partial shade / full shade
Soil TypesSandy loam to clay-loam
MoistureSlightly moist to slightly dry
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBirds & Bees / beetles /moth caterpillars feed on foliage
Sources [2][4][5][10]

What are the Pros and Cons of Virginia Creeper


Attracts Birds

Virginia Creeper will attract birds to your yard. The foliage can provide cover for nesting sites, and the berries are beloved by numerous species during Fall and Winter. So it can help bring in the birds all year.


The dark green foliage adds beautiful lush color to trellises, fences, trees, and structures. In Autumn, the leaves turn a brilliant red color.

Virginia Creeper showing off it’s brilliant fall colors.

It can climb anything

If you have something you wish to hide, plant some Virginia Creeper next to it and wait a year! It’s quick growth rate will hide an ugly chain link fence or dead tree in no time.

Restoration or erosion control

If you have a steep slope or need to restore an area, Virginia Creeper can help you do that. Besides climbing, it can act as a ground cover that will spread aggressively in shady or sunny areas provided it gets some moisture periodically.



Virginia Creeper grows very quickly, up to 20′ per year. This simple innocuous looking vine can turn into a green monster that consumes trees and structures in a single growing season! It is easy to pull, but if the root is in-tact it will re-sprout. (see Control of Virginia Creeper)


The berries from Virginia Creeper are poisonous to humans and should not be consumed. The sap from this plant can also cause itchy rash and irritation in some people.

Grow and Care for Virginia Creeper

In medium moist soil and partial shade (4-6 hours of direct sun per day) Virginia Creeper can grow 20′ or more in a year.

Virginia Creeper Sunlight Requirements

Although Virginia Creeper can grow in any sunlight conditions provided it doesn’t dry out too much and has well draining soil. It will grow quickest in full sun, but does extremely well in partial shade too. And, you often encounter this vine in the woods growing in full shade.

Virginia Creeper Soil Requirements

For soil, Virginia Creeper is very adaptable in that it can grow well in sandy loam to clay loam. It will grow best with loamy soil with organic matter.

Also, for pH it isn’t too picky and can even grow in alkaline soils. [4]

Virginia Creeper Moisture Requirements

For moisture, Virginia Creeper will prefer slightly moist to medium moist soils that drain well. It can tolerate slightly dry soil, and can be used to help stabilize a slope and prevent erosion.


For maintenance, Virginia Creeper can be pruned back in the Spring or Fall after it has shed it’s leaves. This can be a good idea if grown on a trellis, arch, or it expands it’s range beyond what you desire. It can actually be cut right back to ground in Spring to rejuvenate the plant. [5]

To remove Virginia Creeper from structures for maintenance

If you have Virginia Creeper growing on a structure, wall, or decoration and you need to paint it, you can remove the suction cup tendrils. Simply take a sponge or rag and wet the suckers you need to remove. Let them soak for a few minutes, then peel them back. The water will soften their grip and make it easier to remove. Note that it will still likely have small amounts of residue from where the suction cups were attached.


As a native plant, Virginia Creeper will not require supplemental fertilizer.

Virginia Creeper Toxicity

The berries of Virginia Creeper may be enjoyed by birds and mammals, they are very toxic to humans and should never be consumed. If pulling the plant, also know that the sap can be irritating to some people and cause a rash similar to poison ivy. [2][8]

How to control or eliminate Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper can be cut back in Spring if it gets a bit too overzealous in it’s growth. It can also be pruned in Autumn after the leaves fall off. [5]

If one wants to kill or eliminate Virginia Creeper, herbicide application of Triclopyr Ester has been found to be very effective, more so than other herbicides such as 2-4-d or other forms of Triclopyr.[6] It is available from many sources, just search for ‘Triclopyr Ester’. We should note that Triclopyr has a low half-life (<6 months) in soil. [7]

How to Grow Virginia Creeper from Seed

Seed from Virginia Creeper will need cold stratification of approximately 60 days to break dormancy. This can be accomplished by either cold stratifying the seed in the refrigerator using sand, or by Winter Sowing the seed. In my personal opinion, Winter Sowing would be the easier option.

See our guides on both Cold Stratification in the Fridge and Winter Sowing for more information.

Virginia Creeper seeds.

Germination rates can also be improved by soaking seed for 24 hours in water before cold stratifying or winter sowing. And the planting depth of Virginia Creeper seed is around 1/4-3/8″ deep (6-9 mm). Also, seed can be direct sown at 3/8″ (9 mm) deep in Fall. Note that some seed may be eaten by foraging mammals or birds.

As an alternative way to propagate Virginia Creeper, softwood cuttings can be taken in Spring and rooted.

Identification and Characteristics of Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper is a woody vine that can grow upwards of 60′ long. Most often climbing trees, fences or other structures, it can act as a ground cover too. When grown on the ground, it is generally 4-8″ tall. [4]


New growth stems are initially green and smooth that eventually will become woody.


Leaves are alternate, palmate or compound and around 6″ long with 5 leaflets. Individual leaflets generally ovate in shape are 3-6″ long and roughly 2″ wide. The edges will be serrated and a stem (petiole) about 6″ long. The shape of the leaves can be somewhat variable at the tip, being blunt or having more of a long taper to a point.

One of the first vines to change color in Autumn, Virginia Creeper leaves turn a brilliant red or dark red color. They can actually give dead trees some nice fall foliage! That is a nice feature, even though the fall colors of Virginia Creeper leaves don’t seem to last too long.

Virginia Creeper leaves in Autumn color.


At each leaf, there is a tendril on the backside of the stem. This tendril has a small pad at the end that creates an adhesive to allow it to stick to surfaces. This is how the plant climbs. [5]

Primary stem and tendril, opposite of leaf for Virginia Creeper.


Depending on conditions yellow green flowers can be produced in in Summer, lasting for a few weeks. The flowers are inconspicuous, yellow-green in color and about 1/4″ diameter.

In late Summer berries will take the place where the flowers were. These berries are eaten by birds, fox, and skunk who spread the plant. First year plants probably will not flower or set fruit, as I’ve only observed them on large vines.

Fruit of Virginia Creeper in late Summer.

Save seed

To save seed from Virginia Creeper, simply gather ripe berries in the Fall once they have turned a dark purple. Each berry will contain about 3 seeds. Simply squeeze the seeds out of the berry and rinse. Then, dry them for a day in a cool dry place so no moisture is on them. Finally, store them in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic container until ready to sow.


The root system of Virginia Creeper is a woody and good at storing energy. This means that if you pull this plant, and some of the root is left behind, it will likely sprout new vines from the remaining root. When used as a groundcover, new roots will sprout wherever vine nodes come into contact with the soil.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Virginia Creeper


The inconspicuous flowers of Virginia Creeper will attract bees in the summer. Numerous caterpillars feed on the foliage. In fact it hosts the Abbots Sphinx Moth, Virginia Creeper Sphinx and Pandora Sphinx Moth, White Lined Sphinx Moth. [9]


Virginia Creeper is great for attracting birds to your yard. The berries/fruit that Virginia Creeper produce in Fall will feed numerous species of birds through the Winter until they’ve all been eaten. Numerous species consume them – everything from tiny Wrens to large woodpeckers. [10][11] Some of the species you may see visiting your yard to eat the berries are listed below.

  • Northern Flicker
  • Carolina Wren
  • Catbirds
  • Chickadees
  • Gray Jay
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Mockingbirds
  • Nuthatches
  • Robins
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
  • Sapsuckers
  • Tree Swallows
  • Trashers
  • Thrushes
  • Titmice
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Yellow-Rumped Warbler

In addition to birds eating berries, various birds will also nest in Virginia Creeper. The foliage can help provide some added cover to help hide the nest from predators.


There are a small variety of native insects that will feed on the foliage. Japanese beetles will eat the foliage and skeletonize the leaves. [9] Other insects that feed on the foliage can make it look a bit damaged. But, the overall appearance from afar is rarely effected.

Deer and Rabbits

Although not preferred, deer and rabbits will occasionally browse the foliage of Virginia Creeper. You could protect it with Liquid Fence, however it probably isn’t necessary.


Virginia Creeper is not significantly effected by disease. But it can be subjected to various fungi such as leaf spot, mildew and canker diseases. The effect of these fungi is cosmetic and should not be fatal to the plant.

Where you can buy Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it may be possible to purchase at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

There are several sources of seed available online and at Amazon. I have not purchased from these vendors as I have only collected my own seed from the wild. But, none the less it is possible to purchase.

Uses of Virginia Creeper

Garden Uses

Virginia Creeper is an excellent climbing perennial vine to grow on a trellis, structure, or use to hide a fence. With it’s suction-cup tendrils it can grab and hold to almost any surface without damaging stone or brick.

Additionally Virginia Creeper can be used as a groundcover that is particularly suited for shady or steep sloped areas. It will only get between 4-8″ tall on the ground, so it will not require any mowing. And it will still make berries, providing lots of use to birds and animals.

Companion Plants

Virginia Creeper doesn’t really have many companion plants as it is a climbing vine. So, it will try to climb over any flowers or shrubs and steal their sunlight. Although it can do well climbing tree trunks such as Oak, Hickory, or other hardwoods and conifers. It can be pruned to stay close to the main trunk and thus shouldn’t raise the risk of the tree tipping in wind, nor harming the tree by stealing sunlight.

Virginia Creeper ‘creeping’ up a large Black Oak tree.

Medicinal & other uses

There are approximately 17 uses for Virginia Creeper documented by 7 different Native American tribes. It’s wide range means that many different Tribes could discover and share learned medicinal and other uses for this plant. [12] *Note – please bear in mind that all parts of this plant are toxic. None the less, some of these uses by Native American Tribes include:

  • A decoction of leaves were used to treat swelling or applied to wounds
  • Poultice of leaves and roots were used to treat lockjaw.
  • A dye or paint was made from berries
  • Decoction of root was used to treat diarrhea
  • An infusion was used to treat liver problems such as jaundice.
  • Ripe fruit/berries were eaten as food

Final Thoughts

Virginia Creeper is a lovely native vine that can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. Growing up to 20′ per year and 60′ in height, it can be used to decorate or even hide a variety of objects found in the garden. It’s utility as a groundcover is underappreciated, as well as it’s value to wildlife. Finally it is beautiful in the summer with it’s lush green leaves and stunning in Autumn with it’s red color.

This vine should be grown more often where it has room. In fact, I intend to do just that in my own area. I’m constantly battling Japanese Stilt Grass, and would like to test Virginia Creeper’s ability to compete in the woods behind my home. Hopefully, it can keep up or even suppress that awful invader.

Find more native plants here


[1] – Virginia Creeper. USDA NRCS. Accessed 12SEP2022.

[2] – USDA NRCS Plant Fact Sheet for Virginia Creeper. Retrieved 12SEP2022.

[3] – Bowling, A. J., and K. C. Vaughn. “Structural and immunocytochemical characterization of the adhesive tendril of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia [L.] Planch.).” Protoplasma 232.3 (2008): 153-163.

[4] – Ellis, Barbara W. Covering ground : unexpected ideas for landscaping with colorful, low-maintenance ground covers. North Adams, MA : Storey Pub., 2007, pp.224

[5] – Edwards, Jonathon. How to grow shrubs and climbers : a comprehensive guide to essential gardening techniques and skills, from choosing, planting and growing to care and maintenance. London : Southwater, 2007, pp.164

[6] – Tworkoski, Thomas J., Roger S. Young, and John P. Sterrett. “Control of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia): effects of carrier volume on toxicity and distribution of triclopyr.” Weed Technology 2.1 (1988): 31-35.

[7] – Johnson, W. G., and T. L. Lavy. In‐situ dissipation of benomyl, carbofuran, thiobencarb, and triclopyr at three soil depths. Vol. 23. No. 3. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, 1994.

[8] – Smith Jr, James P. “An Annotated List Of The Poisonous And Injurious Vascular Plants Of The United States.” (2022).

[9] – Tallamy, Douglas. Bringing nature home : how native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens. Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2007 pp.287

[10] – Roth, Sally. The backyard bird lover’s field guide : secrets to attracting, identifying, and enjoying birds of your region. New York, NY : Rodale : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers. pp.336.

[11] – Roth, Sally. The complete book for backyard bird lovers : everything you need to know about attracting and feeding birds in your yard. New York, N.Y. : Rodale. 2007. pp.336

[12] – Parthenocissus quinquefolia. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 16SEP2022.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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