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Virginia Creeper – Parthenocissus quinquefolia, tricuspidata, henryana


There are three basic types of Virginia creeper - as far as I am concerned - all with the same methods of scaling up walls and other robust structures; all with brilliant autumn foliage colour; all being easy to grow. The three Virginia creepers – each being superb climbing plants - that qualify for inclusion in this article are

  •  Parthenocissus quinquefolia (True Virginia creeper) - which has five leaflets which make up each divided palmate leaf.
  •  Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy) - does not have leaflets, but single leaves, each with three lobes
  •  Parthenocissus henryana (Chinese Virginia creeper) - again with five leaflets joining to make the single divided palmate leaf - often with prominent white viens.

They are deciduous climbers with attractive dense foliage throughout spring and summer, then the dazzling brilliant red in autumn just before leaf fall.

Ve=irginia Creeper on pergolaThe autumn colour display is not too prolonged, but is well worth the wait. In any event your wall will have an attractive foliage cover for most all of the 6 months or so growing season from this robust climbing plant.

They each have flowers of sorts – but to avoid disappointment; a floral display should not be your reason for choice of this essential foliage plant.

Berries may appear after flowering – normally dark metallic blue or black.

They should not be eaten as they are said to be poisonous, and in any event will normally be out of reach for hand picking! Birds seem to enjoy them.

Virginia Creeper - tricuspidata autumn foliage Virginia creeper summer foliage - henyana Virginia creeper autumn foliage quinquefolia
Parthenocissus tricuspidata :  Parthenocissus henryana - Summer  :  Parthenocissus quinquefolia

One thing that binds all three together is the fact that each of these climbers has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s AGM - Award of Garden Merit.

Being pedantic, and trying to avoid irate emails, I should also mention that Parthenocissus tricuspidata is more commonly known as the Boston ivy, rather than a Virginia creeper. (It is not true ivy, for ivies are evergreen and belong to the Hedera family.)

How and Where to Plant Virginia Creepers

Virginia creepers are rapid climbing vines that adhere to wall or other surface by way of small sucker pads which are situated on the ends of the tendrils sprouting out from the stems. These tendrils are used in the initial stage to twine around supports in order to move the plant upwards to firmer permanent holding places.

They can grow up walls unaided, together with pergolas, fences and trees. The origins of the Virginia creepers are almost exclusively forests in parts of Asia, the Himalayas and areas of North America. It goes without saying then that Virginian creepers – Parthenocissus – can be planted in shade areas. But they are also happy on a sunny wall.

Stunning effect when allowed to grow up through a light foliaged tree – such as one of the Silver Birches. Blood red autumn foliage against the silver bark and yellow fading leaves of the Birch! Provides one of those moments that makes gardening all the more special.

Self Clinging Vines

Parthenocissus cling to walls – either solid brickwork, concrete, or rendered cement walls without causing any damage to stable wall surfaces. The tendril suckers will not dig into soft or unstable cement work, for their quest is to find a solid brick or surface on which to adhere. Ivy (Hedera) on the other hand, will probe any crack in the wall with its aerial root system.

In size order and rapidity of growth cover, my own experience would place them as

1.    Parthenocissus tricuspidata at up to 20 metres in around 10 years. Quick Growing Climber

2.    Parthenocissus quinquefolia at 12-15 metres in 10 years – and onwards after that .

3.    Parthenocissus henryana at a more leisurely pace to approx. 10-12 metres in 10 years then continuing after that.

If planting against a wall – which is normally dry at the base it will be necessary to water sporadically until settled. It will also be necessary to give the vine a helping hand by way of support until it can climb unaided.  After that, and certainly during the second year, such attention will not be required.

Problems with Parthenocissus

All climbing plants come with an often undeserved reputation for causing damage. Just be aware of how quickly they will grow – up to and under the eaves if given a chance and treat by pruning accordingly.

Advantages of Parthenocissus

Great home for a wide variety of wildlife, and a sought after potential place for various bird nests.

They will cool down a sunny wall. They will not insulate a cold wall, for they are leafless in the cold winter. Just plant one and await the autumn display.

Propagation of Virginian creepers

The easiest method is by hardwood cuttings in late autumn after leaf fall, or as softwood cuttings in spring.

Pruning of Virginia Creepers

Cut back as required – as and when required.



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