Arts & Culture

Virginia Creeper

  • By Leah Hughes
  • Photography by ©

One, two, three, four, five — allow this plant to thrive.

Virginia Creeper

People are scared of Virginia creeper. Its name doesn’t help its cause. But most people stay away from this native plant because it resembles poison ivy.

Both vines have green, ovate leaves with notches on their sides. And both take advantage of trees and other objects to attach themselves and climb. The main difference between them is that Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, has five leaves, and poison ivy only has three. Parents often teach children the old rhyme, “Leaves of three, let it be,” to help them avoid poison ivy’s itchy aftermath.

But Virginia creeper is harmless. Unless you mistake the poisonous, bluish berries as edible fruit, it’s a fine plant to have. It shows up along the edges of yards across the state overtaking old rock piles or unsightly well pumps. Because it grows rapidly and spreads as wide as 50 feet, it’s a popular choice to cover things up.

But don’t plant it unless you’re certain of where you want it.

“It’s not good on buildings,” says Mark Rose, a lifelong horticulturist and chairman of the N.C. Plant Conservation Board. “It can penetrate mortar and wood and disintegrate it.”

As Virginia creeper grows, its vines produce tendrils with adhesive tips on the ends, like suction cups. Once those tendrils latch on, there’s no turning loose. But that establishment can be positive. If controlled, Rose says, Virginia creeper makes a nice ground cover or addition to a trellis, and prevents soil erosion if allowed to sprawl. It does require occasional pruning, though, so before you grab hold, be sure to count to five.

Virginia Creeper Line

The old Virginia-Carolina Railroad that ran from Abingdon, Virginia, to Todd was nicknamed the Virginia Creeper. The railroad is responsible for creating the town of West Jefferson when it built a depot two miles southwest of Jefferson. The Virginia Creeper carried freight through the mountains from 1915 until 1977.

Leah Hughes is an associate editor at Our State magazine.

Our State

About Our State

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.
This entry was posted in February 2013, Gardens & Gardening and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Virginia Creeper

  1. Creeper Trial is a most fascinating place,i love to go there and take all day,riding the trail down and seeing nes stuff every time i go.
    I tell everyone about this place,there is so much to see i spend so much time just stopping and looking.There is a place about half way down where the creek is a lot wider with these awesome big rocks,i like to walk out on them and take my snack break,and see all the wonders of the creek and and the forest around me.
    Thank you creeper trail for my memories.

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