Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is an attractive self-clinging climber that can be seen adorning the walls of UK houses and sometimes tall trees. Capable of covering large areas with a vibrant display of autumnal reds and oranges across its leaves, it is an alluring ornamental that can provide cover for walls, fences and pergolas. However, Parthenocissus quinquefolia is also an aggressive plant with vigorous growth that can get out of control, overwhelming other species and with the potential to cause damage. The species is classified as an invasive non-native (alien) plant species in the UK. Property owners, gardeners and farmers should think twice before introducing it, and in practice, may need to take action for Virginia creeper removal.


Virginia creeper, as it’s known in the UK, is known by many other names, including: American ivy, five-leaved ivy, wild wood vine, five leaves, and false grape. In the US it is commonly known as woodbine or American woodbine. The genus Parthenocissus, to which Virginia creeper belongs also has other notable species: False Virginia creeper, Chinese Virginia creeper and Boston ivy. Only one of these is considered an invasive creeper in the UK, hence the importance of accurately identifying Virginia creeper prior to removal.


Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Virginia creeper is a deciduous vine that exhibits prolific growth, frequently reaching heights of 10m and even above 20m. It can be as high as 30m in the wild and it’s equally adept at growing outwards so can reach similar widths.

The plant is native to central and eastern America. The earliest recording of Virginia creeper in the UK dates back to the seventeenth century, but its first appearance in the wild was not recorded until the 1920s. Today, Virginia creeper resides throughout the UK, but is more prolific in southern England and Wales.

The green leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

The green leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) iStock/ddukang


Is Virginia creeper invasive?

Yes, Virginia creeper is an invasive plant in the UK. The 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act Schedule 9 lists Parthenocissus quinquefolia as a UK non-native invasive species. This means it must not be spread to the wild or to neighbouring properties or land because of the negative impact it can have to UK ecosystems. The Act also lists False Virginia creeper as an invasive, non-native plant, consequently the same rules apply.


Virginia creeper UK problems

It is true that Virginia creeper and False Virginia creeper can be attractive, even striking, but they are problematic. That starts with the invasive plant classification. Property owners are still able to purchase and plant Virginia creeper in the UK and enjoy its spectacular autumnal display. There isn’t the need for Virginia creeper removal unless it is damaging a property or is likely to spread to a neighbouring property or adjacent land.

The plant is very capable of spreading to another property through its vigorous growth. Each stem is able to produce roots, and establish a new plant, when a node finds soil. However, it also reproduces from the dispersal of the seeds contained in berries that develop late summer or the beginning of autumn. Birds and also sometimes small animals, will eat these berries, each of which contains two or three seeds. Germination of the successful seeds will take place the following spring.

Close up of the autumn leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Close up of the autumn leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) iStock/Mariia Skovpen

Is Virginia creeper poisonous?

Virginia Creeper is poisonous, although not to the degree of poison ivy. The sap can cause an itchy rash on your skin so it’s best to avoid touching it, particularly if you have sensitive skin.

The berries of Virginia creeper contain poisonous oxolate crystals. The main symptoms if consumed, are potential irritation to the mouth, lips and tongue, and if eaten in volume that could cause swelling which is potentially serious. The berries can also cause vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. The unpleasant taste of the berries acts as deterrent to most animals other than birds.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries are also harmful for dogs and can cause a variety of symptoms from mild to serious and may end up in a visit to the vet. However, the taste and discomfort typically reduces the dog’s consumption.

Does Virginia creeper damage walls?

A question we often get from property owners is ‘Does Virginia creeper damage walls?’. The answer: ‘It is capable of it dependent on the surface’. The creeper is self-clinging, attaching to, or wrapping itself around different surfaces, including vertical brickwork. What it will do is exacerbate damage that is already there, particularly in older properties. For example, Virginia creeper can grow into the cracks of weather-beaten brickwork. The sheer weight of Virginia creeper growth over multiple years, can also cause potential damage to existing fragile masonry or structures.

Welsh cottage covered in Virginia Creeper or five-leaved ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

Welsh cottage covered in Virginia Creeper or five-leaved ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) iStock/onfilm

Virginia creeper can also grow onto roofs, gutters and windows and will need to be trimmed back periodically. It can also damage external paintwork during removal if care is not taken.  Other damage to consider includes the potential to kill host trees and other plants over time by cutting off natural sunlight due to the density of growth.


Virginia creeper identification

Virigina creeper leaves are palmate with five distinctive toothed leaflets each of which is usually around two to six inches in length. Young leaves are first red before they turn a deep green. In the autumn the leaves turn to shades of red, orange and sometimes even hints of purple, providing their annual colourful display.

The relatively indistinct Virginia creeper flowers are small and green. They appear in the spring but are rarely the best method for Virginia creeper identification. Virginia creeper berries are more distinctive, small and bluish-black and usually a few millimetres in diameter. They appear in small clusters and ripen in the autumn.

Round blue autumn berries on Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Round blue autumn berries on Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) iStock/Whiteway

The clearest method of identification is through the distinctive suckers that appear on Virginia creeper tendrils. The tendrils consist of branched stems that are green or green with shades of brown, each tendril usually branching somewhere between three and eight times. Each tendril ends with a distinctive, dark adhesive, disc-shaped sucker that attach the plant to the surface that its climbing. People frequently confuse Virginia creeper with other species including False Virginia creeper and Boston ivy, but the suckers are one of the easiest ways to identify the plant.

False Virginia creeper Vs Virginia creeper

False Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus inserta) is distinct from true Virginia creeper in a number of ways. While both have palmate leaves with five leaflets, Parthenocissus inserta has brighter leaves, with sharper teeth and a hairless underside. It also has bigger berries, as well as some swelling at the nodes on its stem, and pale lenticels. However, the easiest way to tell them apart is through the tendrils. The tendrils on False Virginia creeper end in a thin tip with no sucker, while Virginia creeper has its disc-shaped suckers.

Chinese Virginia creeper vs Virginia creeper

Chinese Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus henryana), also known as silver-vein creeper, looks similar to Virginia creeper. However, the leaves of Parthenocissus henryana are a darker shade of green, which have distinctive silver-veins across the leaflets. The growth of the Chinese Virginia creeper also tends to be less rampant so may not be as extensive. This one isn’t listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Boston ivy Vs Virgina creeper

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is another attractive and vigorous climber that can climb up walls. It has three-lobed leaves rather than five leaflets that emerge from stems on Virginia creeper. The contrasting leaf formation is the easiest way to distinguish Boston Ivy from Virginia creeper. However, the leaves of Boston Ivy can also be larger and have a glossier feel. Being of the same family, and sharing similar characteristics, Boston ivy will require regular maintenance to keep it under control. Though, much like the Russian vine climbing plant, another notable non-native, Boston ivy is not listed in UK legislation.

Glossy green Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) leaves on a French farmhouse wall

Glossy green Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) leaves on a farmhouse wall iStock/PlazacCameraman

How to remove Virginia creeper

There are differing methods for Virginia creeper removal or control depending on the scenario and circumstances.

Manual excavation is possible for younger less established plants, achieved by pulling up the roots. However, this is not practical for Parthenocissus quinquefolia that has matured and spread over a wider area.

Usually, herbicide treatment is required using a systemic herbicide that will be absorbed by the plant and translocated to its roots . This is most effective when combined with manual removal methods to prevent new growth from occurring. Some gardeners suggest using a home-made vinegar-based solution in place of an effective commercially available herbicide, but we strongly recommend not going down this route.

Often, decades of growth makes Virgina creeper removal less straightforward, with the potential to damage your property in the process. This is particularly the case with older properties where there is fragile masonry or paintwork. In such instances, make sure you hire professionals with invasive species management experience. They should have the training to select and apply the correct herbicides and remove and properly dispose of any waste plant material to prevent regrowth. A PCA accredited company will understand the necessity to take proper biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of the plant elsewhere at the property or on to neighbouring land.

We are invasive weed specialists providing management plans for a range of UK invasive plant species. If you are concerned about a climbing invasive plant, or require Virginia creeper removal, call 0203 174 2187 or 01202 816134 to talk to one of our consultants today.


Close up of the autumn leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
iStock/Mariia Skovpen



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