Why is it so easy to confuse poison ivy with Boston ivy for Virginia creepers?

Why is it so easy to confuse poison ivy with Boston ivy for Virginia creepers?

When it comes to drooping color, you can’t do much better than Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). However, there are two other types of vines you might confuse: Boston (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).

This article will introduce you to all three species, highlighting the Virginia creeper.

But first, an overview of the vine.

Vine . review

Vines are woody plants such as trees and shrubs. Unlike these other two categories, vines cannot stand alone. Some vines try to grow vertically, but they are not very good at it.

Therefore, they find ways to stick to logs, walls and other vertical surfaces. They have different ways of doing this. Some are simply wrapped around supporting structures such as tree trunks, fences, arbors, or trellises.

Poison ivy and hydrangeas use aerial roots that grow from the sides or stems. These small roots stick better to rough surfaces, such as tree bark or stonework.

This brings us to Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy. These vines use tablet-shaped adhesive dressings called constipation fasting. Constipation fasting is not very picky about what it will stick to. Smooth surfaces will work just as well as rough surfaces.

Virginia creeper

Sure, the Virginia creeper is not limited to Virginia, but it is crawling. This vine grows across eastern and central North America. This native plant is not a specific habitat. It grows almost everywhere, including valleys, swamp forests, woodlands, fencing, hillsides, roadsides, and the top side of your home or garage.

Besides Virginia creeper, it is also known as false grapevine, American ivy, five-leaf ivy, thick creeper, and woody plant. The common name woodbine is sometimes used to refer to other species in this genus. To avoid confusion, I’ll be ashamed of Woodbine.

Now, five-leaf ivy isn’t a bad alternative name. This vine has compound leaves (arranged like fingers around the palm of your hand) with five leaflets—most of the time. Sometimes, it will have three or as many as seven leaflets.

It was the publications that prompted me to write this article for the fall newsletter. The leaflet set is oval in shape with serrated edges. The middle leaflet is the largest, up to six inches long and two and a half inches wide. In the fall, they turn bright red to burgundy. In the spring, the newly emerging leaflets are also red before turning a rich green.

A glass of vine?

False grape is also not a bad name for this ivy. It produces small bluish-black berries that ripen from August to October. These berries are food for a variety of bird species such as bluebirds, titmouse, thrushes, vireos, woodpeckers, crows, flycatchers, sparrows, and sparrows. Thick foliage provides many birds with a place to build a nest or to hide from predators.

Mammals that eat the crawling cafe include foxes, rabbits, skunks, chipmunks, and squirrels. For the record, Virginia creeper berries are not toxic to humans. Be careful, however, as the fruit contains oxalic acid, which can irritate your stomach and kidneys. It doesn’t taste good either.

Now, those were only warm-blooded wildlife. Let’s move on to insects. The caterpillars of at least four species of moths feed on the leaf creeper: the eight-spot forester, the Virginia creeping sphinx moth, the sphinx moth, and the grape leaf moth.

Since I have a degree in forestry, I can’t give up on the eight-pointed forest. Larvae have black, white and orange rings. Besides chomping on leaves, they will also eat tendrils and grow stem tissue.

If disturbed, they will vomit an orange liquid or spin a line of silk, called a belay’s line, to quickly lower themselves to a different perch. Other larvae, such as roundworms, also produce dashed streaks.

Karma confusion


Poison ivy and Virginia creeper vines grow on a tree. Poison ivy on the right and Virginia creeper on the left.
– Courtesy of Susan Allman

Look at the photo showing a Virginia creeper and poisonous vines growing side by side in the same tree trunk. You can see how people can confuse these plants when they grow in such close proximity.

You will notice that the leaves of the creeper, on the left side of the image, have teeth. Poison ivy leaves, right-sided, can be smooth or just have one or two slits.

The tips of the leaves will not help in the winter when the leaves are under the snow. If you touch the stem of poison ivy, you may still have an allergic reaction. Remember that poison ivy hangs on tree trunks with red aerial roots, while Virginia creepers use those sticky disk-shaped pads.

These aerial roots are red all year round. Of course, one might argue that if you are close enough to see the tiny roots, you are too close.

Ivy League

Look at the photo depicting a vine growing on steps a short distance from where I’m sitting. This can’t be poison ivy, can it? Nope, this is a somewhat atypical example of Boston ivy also known as cottage ivy, or Japanese creeper.

This tough native of Asia is a relative of Virginia creeper and has been planted to decorate walls, buildings, trellises, trees, and fences. In the Northeast, Boston ivy gave rise to the phrase Ivy League. I’m willing to bet you’ve seen this vine.

Like Virginia creeper, Boston ivy has dark berries and leaves turn rich red or burgundy in fall. The leaves are usually toothed and have three lobes instead of three. But, as the photo shows, it can be confused with poison ivy and Virginia creeper.

To sow or not to sow


The three lobes of Boston ivy, shown here, can sometimes appear as leaflets.  This can lead to confusion with poison ivy.

The three lobes of Boston ivy, shown here, can sometimes appear as leaflets. This can lead to confusion with poison ivy.
– Courtesy of Susan Allman

Believe it or not, a 19th century British explorer brought some poison ivy to decorate his garden. I doubt any of you would do that.

The other two vines can add color to your garden, but you should be careful when planting them. They can overpower young trees. Thick creeping leaves can prevent the sun from reaching the leaves of the tree. Of course, they do a good job on trellises and trees.

Virginia creeper and its cousins ​​can be extremely useful as a ground cover. If you have a trunk and want to hide it, let Virginia creeper or Boston ivy cover it. Also, if you have an area prone to erosion, Virginia creeper makes a great ground cover (see first photo).

You need to be careful with the walls in the buildings. Chrome may damage wood and plasterboard panels. Reptiles can also find their way into loose connections, gutters, vents, and shutters. Timely pruning can reduce these potential problems.

According to legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, there is a good time to plant vines near structures: “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”

• Mark Spreyer is the Executive Director of the Stillman Nature Center in Barrington. Email it to [email protected]


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