Saturday, October 25, 2008

Virginia Creeper

Autumn has now definitely arrived, although temperatures are still very high for the time of year and you can still go out without a coat. But the trees are starting to change colour, and the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is glorious at the moment.

I love Virginia Creeper. My grandparents used it in their garden to hide the area where they kept the dustbin, and here in Milan it's very common on balconies. People grow it up wires and trellises at the front of the balcony, to shield the house from both the summer sun and the eyes of the neighbours in the buiding opposite. I don't have any, because it would take too much space away from the other things, but I enjoy watching my neighbours' vines turning to brilliant vermilion every winter. Our caretaker, who has to sweep the fallen leaves off the path every morning, may well have a different opinion.

On a balcony it's relatively easy to keep under control, but in a garden it can run riot if you don't cut it back. It can grow to 50 feet, and once established is almost impossible to get rid of, as it spreads from rhizomes. It's quite happy anywhere in zones 3-10 too, so don't bother hoping the weather will do the job for you. If you plant it, you've got to be willing to love it.

On the canal which runs close to us, it's started growing wild. The local authorities always used to keep the canal banks tidied, but in the past few years they've been left to their own devices. And nature has just taken over. The Robinias are leaning drunkenly into the water, with Virginia Creeper wound insidiously around trunks and branches, then drooping downwards so that it almost obscures the tree completely.

Will it eventually kill off the trees if it's not kept under control? The web seems divided, with some sources saying that it will deprive the trees of light and kill them that way, and others saying no, they'll co-exist quite happily.

While I was browsing though, and trying to find out, I came across this bit of information on the meaning of the name at :

Parthenocissus is a backward translation (and a rather lame one, frankly) from the English, with a healthy dose of poetic license. Partheno- means "virgin" (as in "Virginia") and cissus translates as "ivy."

If you weren't already convinced that Latin names are crazy, that should just about do it I reckon.


compost in my shoe said...

I was in Santa Fe and Taos, NM two weeks ago where the Virginia creeper was beyond a doubt on fire with color. It is one of my favorites as well. Great post!

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Sue ... those are really striking pictures of that vine way over there ! I hadn't thought of it being used in that area for some reason or another.
I have Engelmann which is a cultivar of Virginia and another vine mix .. YES ! it can be very aggressive .. but it is wonderful for covering ugly structures as a metal shed for us.
The colours in Autumn are amazing though, aren't they ? ..
Great pictures : )

F Cameron said...

I didn't realize Virginia Creeper grows in Italy. I'll have to pay more attention on future visits! I've only been through Milan once...on the way to Varenna. Beautiful photos! Cameron

Anonymous said...

Those are some great drapy colors.

Barbee' said...

Beautiful photos of the creeper. We have lots of it here. I usually leave it until after its autumn display, then during the winter we go around all the trees where it is growing heavenward, and clip it at the ground. Next spring it starts over again. Another one I like is called Boston Ivy. The new growth on that one is lovely and delicate.

themanicgardener said...

Well, if not the names, then the name-ers.

A balcony sounds like the right place for this plant.

Chandramouli S said...

Beautiful sight! Looks as if they're falling straight from heaven. Looks so gorgeous.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Impossible to get rid of or not, those pictures are fantastically beautiful.

tina said...

It sure is very pretty. I grows quite well here and is a recommended vine by some. Though the uninformed always confuse it with poison ivy and cut it down. Love the color.

Kristi said...

Gorgeous! Lovely photos.

quu said...

I just love autumn colours. I'm so glad to watch your pics!

In Finland all trees and shrubs are bare in couple of weeks. And last night we got first snow. Trees are bare and it's so dark in the daytime too.

Snow melted away already, but I wish bright and crispy mornings!

Oh, how I wish I could be there and enjoy!


Susan Tomlinson said...

I love Virginia Creeper. I have to hack it back all summer, but it's worth it for the week or two of spectacular color in the fall.

We inherited ours when my DH and I bought our house over a dozen years ago. There is a 75 year old pecan tree in our back yard that is quit covered with it, head to toe on the trunk and larger branches. It has been that way ever since we moved in, and doesn't seem to mind the vine at all. The vine itself is as big around as a wrist, so it's pretty old, too.

Unknown said...

Beautiful photos. They remind me of a waterfall. The colors flowing through it are amazing. Thanks for the treat!

Funny thing about thing about this..When we see vines growing up trees, the first thing that going through our mind is, "Oh no, it's poison ivy!" Then when we get a closer look, what a relief to find that it's Virginia Creeper. :) I haven't seen the masses of color though that you have shown. :)

Anonymous said...

Those are stunning photos, Sue. There's an Abbey near us and I just stand and stare at it for ages when walking the dog. It's inhabited and I'm certain the occupants think I'm some kind of voyeur, or stalker.

Anonymous said...

Didn't say, but you must have guessed - the abbey is completely covered in Virginia Creeper.

Green thumb said...

It is an absolute WOW feeling to see that creeper in a riot of colors.
If only this thing could grow here, I too would have convinced my neighbour to grow one!:-)

Chandramouli S said...

Hi Sue,
Just dropped by to check for any updates and I was wondering if you were busy. Take Care. Waiting see your ever-interesting next post.

Dr.Rutledge said...

Hi Sue,
Those photos are simply phenomenal. I'm an academic physician (formerly at Harvard and Stanford) who found your blog while looking for the best health writers. I think your writing is great! I would like to feature you in the Gardening Community on Wellsphere, a top 10 health website that has well over 2 million visitors monthly.

If you would like to learn more, just drop me an email to

Garden Wise Guy said...

Sue - It's been I while since I've been to your site and just caught your breathtaking shot of Virginia Creeper. I'm all envy here in southern California. Thanks for the burst of fall color. We can grow P. tricuspidata but can't generate that kind of color.

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