…and the Autumn Weather Turns the Leaves to Flame,

…and the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame,

                                                 September Song


Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) creeps along the ground in mesic woods until it comes to a tall tree and then climbs to the top.  Not noticeable until autumn, the leaves turns to flame in September, one of the earliest plants to color.

Some  look upon it as something to get rid of, but Dick Young declares in Kane County Wild Plants and Natural Areas that “It is an elegant plant for the home grounds, limited only by one’s imagination as to location.”

I agree whole-heartedly with Dick.  A  Virginia Creeper was the only plant growing on my property when I bought it (other than the Black Walnut).  It seems to have originated in the far back corner of the lot, but it wanders, meanders and climbs where it will.

It climbs up the drain pipe by the back door


This is the only time it has ever fruited–in October of 2007.

It combines beautifully with Smooth Blue Aster (Aster laevis).

It has climbed up the back of the patio fence, then spilled over the front side in a dazzling cascade.


One of my all time favorite photos–Virginia Creeper and  Wild Grape (Vitis riparia) clamoring along my neighbors’s clothesline.  Serendipity indeed.


The “ivy” that clings to walls is Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata) that is native to Asia.  It is commonly planted as a wall climber and is responsible for the nickname “Ivy League” given to Eastern schools, because of their ivy-covered brick buildings and walls. Its tendrils end in adhesive suction cups that cement  themselves to almost any vertical surface such as brick, stone, wood, or concrete.

Perhaps one of its most famous uses in the United States is the ”ivy” covered brick outfield walls at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

From Wickepedia:

The plant secretes calcium carbonate, which serves as an adhesive pad and gives it the ability to attach itself to a wall without requiring any additional support. While it does not penetrate the building surface but merely attaches to it, nevertheless damage can occur from attempting to rip the plant from the wall. However, if the plant is killed first, such as by severing the vine from the root, the adhesive pads will eventually deteriorate to the point where the plant can be easily removed without causing any damage to the wall.


photo by Ben Schwarz

More Boston Ivy

 Which to plant? The native Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), of course.  Doug Tallamy tells us in Bringing Nature Home that Virginia Creeper is host to 4 different Sphinx Moths–Abbott’s Sphinx, Pandoras Sphinx, Virginia Creeper Sphinx, and White-lined Sphinx.


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8 Responses to …and the Autumn Weather Turns the Leaves to Flame,

  1. Jason October 8, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    I have Virginia Creeper growing on a fence and as a ground cover,as well as up a telephone pole in the alley. We also have Boston Creeper growing on the side of the house. Planted not by us, but by a bird. Neither have shown any color yet.

  2. Pat Hill October 8, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    I think Elgin is a zone colder than Evanston, so your leaves might color later than ours.

    • Pat Hill October 8, 2013 at 11:28 am #

      and some of my photos are from earlier years. this is an example of what one can expect the entire month of October.

  3. Suzanne Massion October 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Thank you, Pat, for a new appreciation of Virginia Creeper. Some is climbing a huge dead oak in the middle of woods north of our house. Those bright red leaves look like red-orange spot lights against the grey tree. A carpet of “creeper” is covering an open area where two oaks toppled over and criss-crossed each other. Happy to have it there, now.

  4. Jack Shouba October 9, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Enjoyed your post, as always. Virginia creeper is very colorful, but it can be pretty aggressive.It seemed doubtful that it would be the “ivy” at Wrigley Field, so I searched online. Most sites say it is Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, which is not native in spite of its common name. So it seems obvious that the curse is not due to a billy goat, but to the use of non-native plants.
    Wikipedia also says the “ivy” includes the oriental bittersweet, which is one of the most invasive plants in our area. So Cubs fans, bring your botany books with you next time you go, and let us know.

  5. PATTY October 9, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    I love the line from “September Song” and sang it as a duet in high school in the 60’s. It was a very old song even then, made popular by Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, I think.

    • Pat Hill October 9, 2013 at 10:21 am #

      Patty, I remember Frank Sinatra singing it, and I believe Jimmy Durante had a version, as well. As long as we have Septembers, it will never go out of style.

  6. Pat Hill October 9, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Jack, I brought up Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata ahead of the picture of Boston Ivy on the garage. I put the statement about the “ivy” at Wrigley Field between the picture of the Boston Ivy on the garage and the Boston Ivy on the concrete steps. I thought it was clear, but evidently not. Sorry for the mixup.

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