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Covington, N - Virginia creeper

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago

Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia


Why I chose this plant


What first caught my attention about Virginia creeper/Parthenocissus quinquefolia was its method of climbing, using tendrils ending in adhesive pads or disks. Until I began this project, I had only noticed vines wrapping their tendrils or stems around other plant stems, fences, or other supports. The second factor was Virginia creeper’s “fruit flagging” or bright, early fall color.


Figure 1 Tendrils ending in adhesive disks or pads

(Parthenocissus quinquefolia- Image Archive of Central Texas Plants 2005)


Figure 2 Virginia creeper showing brilliant fall foliage

(Bruso 1989)



Plant Life Form and Description


Virginia creeper/Parthenocissus quinquefolia is a perennial dicot, a woody, deciduous vine that grows rapidly. This vine can run along the ground or climb a support, such as a tree, rock face, or fence. Virginia creeper can climb or run as far as 60 ft, and when running along the ground, it can grow to a height of about 1 ft.


Virginia creeper climbs using branching tendrils ending in adhesive disks or pads, which fasten to bark, rock, or other rough-textured support. Unlike many other vines, Virginia creeper can climb rough surfaces of any width; it does not need to wrap its tendrils around its support.


Virginia creeper has palmate, compound leaves, usually with five leaflets (rarely three or seven), each from 2 to 6 in long, elliptical, with pointed tips and toothed margins. The leaves alternate; the tendrils grow opposite the leaves. Stems are bronze or light reddish brown; mature leaves are green through the plant's active period.


Virginia creeper flowers in late spring to mid summer. Blossoms are small and greenish white or greenish yellow. The flowers are pollinated by insects. Small, hard berries form in late summer to fall and ripen to a blue-black color. Flowers and fruit grow in clusters, like grapes—and Virginia creeper is a member of the grape family (Vitaceae).


In early autumn, the leaves turn bright red, maroon, or purple, often before the foliage on neighboring plants changes color. This vibrant foliage may call attention to the fruit - the "fruit flagging" mentioned earlier. By changing color early, Virginia creeper gives up about a month of photosynthesis; it is reasonable to hypothesize that this may be a sacrifice in favor of calling attention to the berries (Stiles 1982).


Virginia creeper reproduces primarily by seed. Seeds are animal dispersed, mostly by birds (for example, migrating songbirds, as documented on Block Island, Rhode Island; the Virginia creeper berries have a higher proportion of fat than many other common fruits there) (Smith 2007). 


Remaining berries drop from fall through winter.  


Stems in contact with the ground may root, and the plant can be propagated vegetatively using cuttings or layering. Therefore Virginia creeper probably reproduces vegetatively on its own, as well.


This vine tolerates a wide range of conditions. It thrives in full sun to part or full shade and grows in most soil types; it’s even somewhat salt tolerant. Although it prefers moist soil, Virginia creeper can grow in dry soil, too.




Virginia creeper is common in at least 2 of the 14 major habitat types defined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF): Temperate Broadleaf & Mixed Forests and Temperate Coniferous Forests.


Virginia creeper grows in eastern and central North America as far west as Utah (USDA Plants Database 2008), in southeastern Canada, and in Guatemala and Mexico (USDA ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network 2008).


Given the breadth of its range as described in various sources, Virginia creeper may also be found in Boreal Forests/Taiga (Canada) and Temperate Grasslands, Savannas & Shrublands (U.S.).



Figure 3 Map of WWF ecoregions showing areas in North America where Virginia creeper is found

(map © WWF [updated 2007])


Is Virginia Creeper invasive?


Virginia creeper is a common vine through much of its range. It is sometimes considered weedy or invasive, according to the USDA PLANTS Database (USDA Plants Database 2008). The vine grows rapidly, can shade a supporting plant enough to harm it, and can quickly take over more area than one might like. However, Virginia creeper is native to most or all of its range. Thus the answer to this question depends on whether one defines all invasive species to be nonnative, in which case Virginia creeper is not invasive.


Interesting connections with humans or other life forms


Several species of Sphinx moths rely on the Virginia creeper as a host for their caterpillars (Hilty 2007) (Henderson State University 2007).


Humans cultivate Virginia creeper for several reasons including its showy red fall foliage, its ability as a ground cover, and its attractiveness to birds, which eat the berries and take shelter among the vine’s leaves. Several animals also eat the foliage. Because it is native to North America, Virginia creeper can be a desirable alternative to a nonnative vine.


The Cherokee and Iroquois had several medicinal uses for Virginia creeper; the Chippewa used it for food; and the Kiowa produced a pink dye from the berries. (Moerman 1998). Medicinal uses of Virginia creeper continued after European settlement of the Americas, too. The fruit is toxic to humans.




Habitats of Virginia creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia


As described earlier, Virginia creeper/Parthenocissus quinquefolia is native to and widespread in at least 2 of the 14 major biomes identified by WWF, Temperate Broadleaf & Mixed Forests and Temperate Coniferous Forests. Given its large range described by a couple of USDA sources, Virginia creeper may also be found in Boreal Forests/Taiga (Canada) and Temperate Grasslands, Savannas & Shrublands (U.S.). Figure 4 shows a somewhat better map of the WWF biomes than Figure 3.





Figure 4 A map showing the 14 WWF biomes and indicating the range of Virginia Creeper(Olson et al 2001)



Both the Temperate Broadleaf & Mixed Forests and Temperate Coniferous Forests in North America have already been damaged by human activity. In particular there are few, small examples left of the Temperate Coniferous Forests in the eastern U.S. In the southeast U.S., the original coniferous forest consisted mostly of tall, open stands of long-leaf pine (Pinus palustris) with an understory of wiregrass and diverse herbaceous plants. Most of the original stands of trees were cut and replaced with agriculture or tree plantations, the latter often growing different species of coniferous trees in monoculture plantings. Other cut areas have regrown as mixed hardwood forest, perhaps at least partly because of fire suppression. And much of the forest has been lost to urban and suburban development. Both logging and development continue to be major threats. (WWF 2006)


Temperate Broadleaf & Mixed Forests in eastern North America have also been logged, converted to farmland, and replaced by urban and suburban development. But more viable examples survive of many of the diverse types of forest that make up this major habitat type. Moreover these forests seem to be resilient enough to be good candidates for restoration. There are many examples in many eastern U.S. states of forests that have regrown on land formerly cleared for agriculture and timber harvesting and become species-rich. (WWF 2006)


Ongoing threats to Temperate Broadleaf & Mixed Forests and Temperate Coniferous Forests include continued development, climate change, air and water pollution, and competition from invasive nonnative species.


Land use policies and regulations can address the threat of continued development to habitat. Conservation easements can, also; the critical habitat of many endangered and threatened species lies on private land, and easements can protect that habitat. Conservation easements adjoining public land preserves can be especially effective.


To address pollution, it is important to continue renewing and strengthening the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts in the U.S. and similar measures in other nations. The U. S. has made a lot of progress to date on pollution; as other nations develop, our nation can share knowledge and technology. To address climate change, the U.S. must take action to regulate greenhouse gases. Ideally the U.S. should join or at least match the efforts and commitments of other countries. Even better, the U.S. should exceed these efforts and commitments.


Overall, we need to consume less. There are so many of us; we must choose to change our behavior to reduce our impact on the earth. We need to make reducing consumption part of our culture, through education, publicity, incentives, and individual efforts. We have made progress this way in the past, on issues such as littering. It's time to do so again.


Invasive nonnative species are another matter. Fighting these is costly, and often the threats they pose are not as obvious as climate change and pollution, for example. Lack of awareness or perceived threat generally correlates with a lack of money or resources devoted to fighting the problem.

Even if we have the will and the means to fight the invasive nonnatives we already have, people and resources continue to move around the world quickly and bring many species along, some on purpose and some inadvertently. Fighting invasive nonnative species will rest on continued research into the species, their effects, and ways to control them in their adopted environments; dissemination of the knowledge; and funding to apply the knowledge. 


Through all the damage done so far to its habitats and in the face of current threats, Parthenocissus quinquefolia continues to thrive and show its resilience. For example, among several plants evaluated over several years in New Jersey, Virginia creeper was only moderately sensitive to ozone damage (Davis 2006). Although this vine prefers regular rainfall, it responds effectively to dry conditions by managing its midday water conductance and photosynthetic rates (Zhang 2004) (Interestingly, this cited article was exploring the use of Virginia creeper to restore an area in China; will Virginia creeper become a problem species there?).  P. quinquefolia also held up well in a study of its resistance to a combination of dryness and infection with the bacteria that causes bacterial leaf scorch, Xylella fastidiosa (McElrone 2004). In a study of the effect of fire on ground cover, the fires did reduce the proportion of Virginia creeper cover but did not seem to affect the number of plants (Nuzzo 1996).


As stated before, Virginia creeper grows in a wide range of conditions and is even considered weedy by some. For now, this vine is less vulnerable to habitat threats than many other plant species, and may be more able than most to adapt.



Bibliography of References



Davis DD, Orendovici T. 2006. Incidence of ozone symptoms on vegetation Within a National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, USA. Environmental Pollution 143(3):555-64.


Hilty, J. 2007. Virginia Creeper: Parthenocissus quinquefolia: Grape family (Vitaceae). In: Wildflowers of Illinois in Savannas & Thickets [Internet] [cited 18 Feb 2008]. Illinois (city unknown). Available from: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/savanna/plants/va_creeper.htm


McElrone A. 2004. Photosynthetic responses of a temperate liana to Xylella fastidiosa infection and water stress. J.Phytopathol 152(1):9-20. 



Moerman, D E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland (OR): Timber Press, Inc. pp 378-9.


Nature Trivia- Moths of Arkansas, Sphingidae. 2007. [Internet] [cited 17 Feb 2008] Arkadelphia (AR): Henderson State University. Available from: http://www.hsu.edu/content.aspx?id=6598


Nuzzo V. 1996. Fire impact on groundlayer flora in a sand forest 1990-1994. Am.Midl.Nat 136(2):207-221.


Parthenocissus quinquefolia (L.) Planch. 2007 (modified 6 Sep 2007). In: Native Plant Database. [Internet] [cited 17 Feb 2008] Austin (TX): Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Available from: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=PAQU2


Smith S. 2007. Fruit quality and consumption by songbirds during autumn migration. Wilson J. Ornithol. 119(3):419-428.


Stiles E. 1982. Fruit Flags: Two Hypotheses. Am.Nat 120(4):500-509.


USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program.

Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Online Database].

National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland.

URL: http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?26804  (18 February 2008)


USDA, NRCS. 2008. PLANTS Profile for Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 17 February 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.


World Wildlife Fund. Southeastern Coniferous & Broadleaf Forests - A Global Ecoregion. 2006. [Internet - Updated 6 Jul 2006] [Cited 5 Mar 2008]. Available from: http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/ecoregions/seconiferous_broadleaf_forests.cfm


World Wildlife Fund. Temperate Coniferous Forest Ecoregions. 2006. [Internet - Updated 11 Jul 2006] [Cited 5 Mar 2008]. Available from: http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/ecoregions/about/habitat_types/selecting_terrestrial_ecoregions/habitat05.cfm


Zhang Z. 2004. Photosynthesis and growth responses of Parthenocissus quinquefolia (L.) planch to soil water availability. Photosynthetica 42(1):87-92.


Picture Sources


Figure 1:

Bruso, George H. Photo taken: Mississippi. Accession date: 17 Oct 1989. Unrestricted. [Internet] [cited 17 Feb 2008] In: Native Plant Database. Austin (TX): Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Available from: http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=7681


Figure 2:

Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Image Archive of Central Texas Plants, part of the course website for BIO 406D at the University of Texas at Austin. [Internet] (last updated 2005) [cited 18 Feb 2008]  Available from: http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/bio406d/images/pics/vit/parthenocissus_quinquefolia.htm


Figure 3:

G200 Maps for downloading (1999-2000). [Internet] [cited 17 Feb 2008] WWF. Available from: http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/ecoregions/maps/index.cfm


Figure 4:


Olson DM, Dinerstein E, Wikramanayake ED, Burgess ND, Powell GVN, Underwood EC, et al. 2001. Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth. Bioscience. 51(11):933-938. (photo from p 934) 




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