Going Native: Jeepers…Creepers Can Be Keepers

by Dale Goodner

I used to point out a huge Virginia Creeper vine during tours at the Nature Center. A young Charles Darwin had once calculated that the hold fasts on each tendril of this interesting vine exerted about two pounds of pressure in order to hold the vine securely to the tree which it had climbed. In other words the thousands of tendrils combined for tons of grip. No wind was going to blow this vine down.

It’s important to note that the tendrils merely hold the vine in place and don’t feed off of the host plant. They merely use it for a support. This relationship is known as “commensalism.”

Virginia Creeper is a native vine that produces berries that feed a wide array of wildlife. Birds that feed on the fruits include chickadees, bluebirds, cardinals and woodpeckers. Plus its foliage is eaten by numerous species of butterfly and moth larvae, which in turn are needed by native birds to nurture nestlings. Being a climber it adds visual interest at various levels throughout your landscape.

Also known as woodbine, this valuable vine can add texture and a vibrant green.

With beautiful scarlet fall color, a tendency to grow high into the tallest trees, and even an uncanny ability to form ground cover under the right conditions, Virginia Creeper may be just the plant to enhance your landscape. The large green foliage provides cover for many small animals and birds. And best of all, it grows under a wide variety of conditions, from dry to moist, and bright sunny to shady.

Virginia Creeper. Photo by Mary Goodner.

Virginia Creeper. Photo by Mary Goodner.

This member of the grape family is native throughout the eastern half of North America. Even though they don’t look alike, people often confuse Virginia Creeper with poison ivy, since they are often seen together. But poison ivy has only three leaflets, while Virginia Creeper has five, and the foliage of Virginia Creeper has more “teeth” along the leaf margins.

The tiny yellowish green flowers of Virginia Creeper can be seen from June through July and into August. The fruits are small purplish black berries, about a quarter-inch in diameter, and although readily eaten by many native critters, they can be toxic to humans.

Noted naturalist and author Roy Lukes of Door County pointed out some of the more desirable attributes of this plant, in an article in the Peninsula Pulse a couple years ago: “Its attractive foliage, manner of growth and the excellent cover and food it provides wildlife make the Virginia Creeper one of the most beautiful native vines of eastern United States.” I agree. We hope to find some to add to our evolving landscape.

When contacting growers or garden centers to inquire about this excellent vine, there are two species found in our area. Ask specifically for “Parthenocissus quinquefolia,” or “Parthenocissus integra.” Notice that each has just two names. Insist on these native plants, and you can rest assured that, according to Charles Darwin himself, whose 207th birthday happens to be the 12th of February, your vine is likely to remain in place through storm and blizzard. Plus, it will provide food and cover for native critters.

“Going Native” is an occasional series from the Door County Chapter of Wild Ones. Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes promotes environmentally sound practices to encourage biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. The Door County chapter of Wild Ones aims to share knowledge and experience in natural landscaping by means of nature walks, yard visits and lectures. For more information visit

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