…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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