Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Virginia Creeper


It's not only trees showing off their rich colors this season. Take a look at this fine vine named Virginia Creeper :

It accents nicely this red building on the Grand River (Grand River) near Ada, Michigan.

Now you know what to call these climbing columns of crimson the next time you see them.

Of course they're rooted in the ground, and begin to climb whatever is available; sometimes surrounding the entire tree trunk.

These vines are thriving high in the branches of an American Black Walnut tree. A handful of yellow leaves are still hanging on. Walnut is one of the first trees to shed its leaves in the fall.

If the support is short, Virginia will creep to the top, crawl along the rails, or use itself for additional growth. Sometimes there's nowhere left to go but down...

... and Virginia is quite satisfied just hanging and dangling in the breeze, because it loves the sun, but can tolerate the shade...

Virginia Creeper will occasionally attempt to climb an evergreen, ...

... but notice how it prefers to stay out on the perimeter for better access to sunlight.

This Fir looks pre-decorated for Christmas.

Please do not confuse Virginia Creeper with Poison Ivy.

This photo is from a previous post. See the entry for May 7, 2012 : "Father Nature Quiz" (Quiz) .

 Left = Virginia Creeper; Right = Poison Ivy; with the bad reputation.

Poison Ivy - always, always, always 3 leaflets; not toothed, or slightly toothed; that is, just a few notches.

Virginia Creeper - almost always 5 leaflets; rarely 3 or 7, coarsely toothed; that is, several teeth along the leaf margin.

Another view of Poison Ivy, just to confirm you will recognize it on your next outing.

Virginia Creeper's Genus name, Parthenocissus, is from the Greek, meaning: "virgin ivy".

The species name, quinquefolia, means five-part leaf.

It's related to the Wild Grape, and has a very similar growth pattern.

Other names for Virginia Creeper: False Grape, American Ivy, Five-leaved Ivy, and in the olden days, Woodbine.

The greenish, clustered, inconspicuous flowers are insect-pollinated.

I think the coolest thing about this vine is how it climbs. The tender tendrils reach out, seeking a supportive surface.

When they touch the support, the tendril tips secrete a glue-like substance, and small discs form, which cling to the surface. These clasping little pads are persistent, and remain "glued" long after the vine dies.

The vine on the left is alive. The vine on the right has died; yet the pads persist, clinging to the post.

Over time, these discs can erode and crumble a smooth masonry surface.

This shot reminds me of a lizard's toes climbing up the post. Or a Tree Frog's toes; see previous post "Blog the Tree Frog" (Tree Frog) July 21, 2012.

In addition to the beautiful red leaves, their fruits are also prominent this time of year. They develop into dark blue (1/4" - 3/8" , 6 - 9 mm, diameter ) berries when mature; growing in loose, red-stalked clusters.

This creeper is growing along a Wild Grape vine, both competing for sunlight.

Here's a good-looking snack for several birds and a few mammals.

 The berries are high in fat content, and often remain on the plant into the winter.

Many bird species feed on these berries. They are a favorite of many woodpeckers, including: Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Pileated, Northern Flicker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Other frequent feeders: Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Red-eyed Vireo, and Fox Sparrow. Game birds that consume these berries are Wild Turkeys, Pheasants, and Grouse.

FYI : Fermented fruits on the vine occasionally intoxicate birds.

Mammal consumers: Red Fox, Striped Skunk, and Eastern Chipmunk. White-tailed Deer browse the twigs and foliage.

NOTE : Virginia Creeper berries are NOT for human consumption! They can be fatal if eaten in large quantities.

Well, everything I know about this fine vine I have shared with you. I am a lifelong student; and if you can teach me more, at the age of sixty-four, I am still thirsty for knowledge. I hope you've enjoyed meeting "Virginia Creeper". These climbing columns of crimson will only last a short time before they age with the shortening daylight, succumb to the effects of frost, and are stripped away by the winds.

I encourage you to get outside, breathe in this fine Autumn air, take a walk on your favorite trail, and look longer and deeper for this magnificent creeper. When you find her, tell Virginia that "Father Nature" sent you. She may remember me.


Forest and Thicket - Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers of Eastern North America, John Eastman  1992 (Eastman)

How to Know the Wild Fruits, Maude Gridley Peterson  1973 (Peterson)

Hal Borland's Book of Days,  Hal Borland  1976 (Borland)

Fieldbook of Natural History, E. Laurence Palmer  1949 (Palmer)

Photo Locations:

Home Woods, Rockford, (Rockford) Michigan

Grand River (Grand River) @ Ada, (Ada) Michigan

Cannonsburg, (Cannonsburg) Michigan

Elk Rapids, (Elk Rapids) Michigan

Reeds Lake Trail (Trail) @ East Grand Rapids, (EGR) Michigan