Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Virginia creeper leaflet like a flame

with 23 comments

Virginia Creeper Leaflet Turned Red by Flameleaf Sumac 0441A

On the rocks near the upper of the two flameleaf sumacs that appeared here the other day I noticed some strands of Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, a vine whose leaflets can also look flame-like. Here, then, to complement the broad and distant view you saw five weeks ago, is a closeup of one such flame. The color in the background is from the lower of the two flameleaf sumacs I spent time photographing along the path behind the Arboretum on November 30.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2014 at 5:26 AM

23 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I like ’em crisp … this fills the bill nicely. Beautiful shot.

    Pairodox Farm

    December 18, 2014 at 8:00 AM

  2. I agree, nice shot.

    It’s probably worth noting that Virginia creeper is often mistaken for poison ivy, a sad mistake when made by gardeners trying to rid their gardens of toxins. The usual “leaflets three, let it be” advice with poison ivy is often accompanied with “look for the red spot where the stems of the three leaflets meet.”

    Creeper has five leaflets, in full development — but also has that pesky red spot. There may be other vines that share the red spot, but in forests and plains and deserts of the U.S. from New York to southern Nevada, I’ve not encountered it. In the spring, erupting leaflets of Virginia creeper can put out three leaflets, sometimes I think just to confuse gardeners and Cub Scouts.

    It’s native to the U.S., but probably not endangered in anyway, so I fully support efforts to eradicate poison ivy from human frequented trails and meadows. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that healthy stands of creeper tend to crowd out poison ivy, another advantage.

    Over the years, I’ve come to favor the brighter red of Virginia creeper over the darker, but beautiful red tones of poison ivy. It was poison ivy’s fall foliage that induced British traders to take the plant back to England . . . if only they had known.

    Virginia creeper is much underappreciated. Thanks for the photos!

    Ed Darrell

    December 18, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    • And thanks for your detailed comments about those two often-confused vines. I imagine the greatest confusion comes from instances in which Virginia creeper has lost (or as you say, not yet put out) some of its leaflets, because when all five are present their number and palmate arrangement clearly distinguish this harmless vine from the toxic one.

      There’s plenty of poison ivy in central Texas, including in some popular places like the trail along Lady Bird Lake right in downtown Austin. Because poison ivy is often so lush in this warm climate that eradicating it is difficult, authorities sometimes just put up signs in well-frequented areas warning people about the plant’s presence. A lot of people don’t know what poison ivy looks like, so when I’m walking with anyone in nature I typically stop at the first occurrence I see and point out the identifying features, including the red area you mentioned.

      I didn’t know that poison ivy’s fall colors induced British traders to take the plant back to England. There must have been plenty of unhappy gardeners as a result.

      And still on the subject of poison ivy, just in case you haven’t seen my recent posts about it, you can find them at:




      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    • Your comments are very interesting. Like you I favor the red of Virginia creeper, but I do like how the two reds look against each other. Also, in delicate habitat we appreciate the poison ivy for keeping people on the trails! 🙂


      December 18, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      • Now there’s a “fence” not many people will try to breach. (The word fence, by the way, came about as a shortened form of defence, which is still the British spelling.)

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 18, 2014 at 1:38 PM

        • Completely unrelated, but here it is: your mention of defence brought to mind the old verse. “Deliver de letter, de sooner, de better.” Oh, my.


          December 18, 2014 at 7:28 PM

        • Ha! Yeah 🙂 That is interesting, the origin of the word “fence”. I’ll have to share that with my daughter, who loves words.


          December 19, 2014 at 10:21 AM

  3. I’m carrying a torch for this one, Steve! Haha! Seriously, this is a wonderful photo and it enlivened a very gloomy cold day here.


    December 18, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    • It’s good to hear that this torch inflamed your passion (at least visually), Melissa. Many of the days here in the two weeks since I took this picture have been overcast too, including yesterday and today, so I’m glad I went out to take pictures as much as I did near the end of November and the beginning of December. That said, I’m sorry to have to tell you we still have some wildflowers here. I have a picture of one scheduled for Saturday, in case you still crave some deglooming.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      • That is ok, Steve, you can gloat. One of these days I’m going to move to an island in Puget Sound and revel in all that wet drippy green, and that thought sustains me.

        I’m looking forward to your flowers on Saturday 🙂


        December 19, 2014 at 10:24 AM

  4. Beautiful colours and composition. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    December 18, 2014 at 2:15 PM

  5. That is quite a fiery leaf. Of course, you have done your usual superb job of capture and processing. Kind of makes me think of the old Arthur Brown ditty…”I am the God of Hellfire…and I give you FIRE”. Probably most of your readers have no idea about that…maybe you don’t either.

    Steve Gingold

    December 18, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    • Talk about firing up memories: it’s been decades since I heard or even thought about ”I am the God of Hellfire…and I give you FIRE.”

      As for the image, it’s another example of backlighting. I’d already taken advantage of that in pictures of the flameleaf sumac, so it seemed reasonable to use it for the Virginia creeper as well. Reasonable, but harder, because I had to go around a railing and work my way across some boulders to get close to the creeper that I could scrunch down low and maximize the translucence of the leaflets. It’s one more example of the extremes we sometimes go to for our pictures, something you understand only too well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2014 at 2:59 PM

  6. One of the things I like best about your photos of these single leaves is the way the veins are highlighted. This one looks crazed, like old china. Is it a result of the light that makes the veins seem so white, or do they lose their color before the leaf surface? Whichever, it certainly is beautiful.


    December 18, 2014 at 7:33 PM

    • You’re a good raiser of questions that I don’t always have good answers to. My tentative answer is that the veins of Virigina creeper leaflets are lighter than the surrounding parts, as the picture at


      seems to confirm. Looking at other pictures I’ve taken of this species, a lot also seems to depend on the way the leaflet are lit. I have a feeling that if I’d studied drawing and painting I might have a more thorough answer for you.

      I wasn’t familiar with the use of crazed to describe something like the cracks in china, but it’s the same word we use in the sense of ‘mentally deranged.’ I see from my references that the word is of Scandinavian origin and that French picked it up as the verb écraser. I’ve known that French verb since high school but never would have suspected a connection to crazy, so I’m beholden to you for bringing up the subject.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2014 at 10:46 PM

  7. Beautiful capture of the colour.


    December 19, 2014 at 3:21 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: