Monday, July 1, 2013

'Leaves of Five, Let it Thrive'

   'Leaves of three' and creeping on the ground or up a tree means poison ivy,  But what does 'leaves of five' mean?  It means that you have a solution to a nasty, bare, shaded and or hilly area on your property.  It could also mean that you have a solution to a hot wall or an unattractive fence issue.  Just what is 'leaves of five'?  It is Virginia Creeper.
     Virginia creeper, as the name implies, is a vine.  It is also a native to much of the eastern United States.  This perennial, woody vine will creep along the ground filling in an area and acting as a ground cover, or it will climb up an over things like fences and stumps along its path.  Either way, it is a stunning plant and deserves to be considered for use on your site.
     The plant has leaves that are composed of five leaflets.  These leaflets range in size from two to six inches and are toothed.  As a result they resemble the leaflets of poison ivy with the exception of their numbers.  Because people fail to recognize this difference or simply do not look closely to the plant, they often remove or kill Virginia creeper thinking that they are ridding themselves of poison ivy.  Often both plants can be found growing wild within close proximity as well which further leads to the confusion.  Both are rather attractive vines, but one has a rather nasty after-burn.
     The vine has new shoots and leaves that begin with a red to burgundy tint and gradually transform into their bright green summer foliage.  In the fall the leaves again turn red to burgundy just prior to leaf drop.  They produce a fairly inconspicuous green flower in the summer from June through August which ripens into a blue berry in the fall.  This is a favorite for a number of songbirds including bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers and turkey.  They are also sought out as food by mice, squirrel, chipmunk and even deer.  Deer will also munch on the stems and leaves.
     Virginia creeper makes an excellent ground cover and will cover an open area of ground.  The plant is native to new and old growth forest and especially forest margins, stream banks and fence rows.  It performs well on slopes and provides excellent cover to act as erosion control.  The vine prefers partial shade to full sun and acidic soil.  This is perfect in our area of North Carolina where the soil is made acidic through the organic layers that are composed primarily of oak leaves and pine needles.  Although growth is slowed, Virginia creeper will also grow in sandy soil and even in areas of higher salt content.
     To establish Virginia creeper on your site, you can either obtain plants or you can seed them if a larger coverage area is desired.  Plants are available at many commercial nurseries who also can provide cultivars that have been bred for specific characteristics such as brighter fall color or smaller leaves.  Seeds can be sown in the fall or in the early spring.  They should have three eights inch cover of soil or mulch and should be planted at a rate of ten seed per square foot.
     As no plant is absolutely without flaws, Virginia creeper has a couple of things that need to be remembered when being used on a site.  First, the vine can get out of hand and will need to be cut back on occasion.  It has been known to completely cover and kill trees by preventing them from getting enough light to their leaves.  It can also cover structures.  This can be prevented by an annual trimming back to keep it in check.  Also, be aware that although the berries are loved by wildlife, they are poisonous to humans and that excessive contact to the sap can also cause an allergic reaction in some people. 
     Use the Virginia creeper wisely, and it will reward you with great cover and beautiful fall color.

1 comment:

  1. Thank u explaining leaves of 5. they are beautiful ground cover and I have one growing up the outside of my window., Now I know that it a Virginia Creeper.