Creepy Virginia Creeper

This week, we continue exploring spooky plants by taking a look at a plant with which we are all familiar: Parthenocissus quinquefolia, or Virginia Creeper. 

With a name like “creeper,” it must be a fittingly spooky plant, right? Parthenocissus quinquefolia gets its name from a tendency to creep along the ground until it meets a vertical surface. Then, it utilizes adhesive pads or sucker discs on the end of tendrils to climb any rough surface, be it tree trunk, brick or stone. Virginia creeper is extremely common, and it is a vigorous grower. It has many wonderful qualities from its cool five leaflet, palmately compound leaf to red fall color. It seems to grow well in a broad range of habitats and feed a number of native insects, including leaf cutter bees

If it is so cool, why did I include this in the “spooky” category? In short, the oxalate crystals found in the mature, blue/dark purple berries and leaves. Virginia Creeper berries look like tasty miniature grapes, but do not be tempted to sample! This is not fruit you want to digest. While ingesting the berries or leaves can leave your gastrointestinal system in a heap of trouble, Creeper’s lethality is somewhat in question. It only takes a few ounces of oxalate crystal to kill a human, but no one knows for sure if the average strain of P. quinquefolia has enough to create an early exit. I, for one, do not plan to find out.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

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