Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Virginia creeper creeping colorfully upward

with 88 comments

Long-time readers have heard me say, and central Texans don’t need me to tell them, that this area doesn’t have a lot of appealing fall foliage. One exception is Parthenocissus quinquefolia, a climbing vine known as Virginia creeper or, to keep the glory from going to another state, five-leaf creeper. On December 1st I was driving south on US 183 in Cedar Park, an adjacent suburb north of Austin, when I glimpsed a vertical band of red ahead and to my right. I knew right away that it had to be Virginia creeper, and I made sure to stop and photograph this unusually good display of it.

As is almost always the case along a main road in a populated area, I had to work at getting myself into positions—typically low ones—where I could exclude poles, power lines, stores, signs, vehicles, non-native trees, and other unwanted things from my pictures.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2017 at 4:49 PM

88 Responses

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  1. How festive looking! That’s surely one exuberant growth!

    Robert Parker

    December 16, 2017 at 6:51 PM

    • Festive is a good word for it. This was the best fall Virginia creeper foliage I’d seen in three years. The previous sighting had the advantage of being right in my neighborhood:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2017 at 7:53 PM

      • I’ve seen a lot more mentions of kudzu, wisteria, and Japanese honeysuckle, which I know are all foreign/invasive, but Virginia creeper seems to be everywhere I go.

        Robert Parker

        December 16, 2017 at 8:16 PM

        • That’s a good sign, given that Virginia creeper is native. We have one growing up a tree trunk in our back yard. Also found in many places in central Texas and disposed to turn colors in the fall, but not good for people, is poison ivy.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 16, 2017 at 8:20 PM

          • Yeah, poison ivy is actually very pretty in the fall. I heard about someone here locally, who didn’t realize what it was, and liked the red leaves, so they dug the vine up and planted it next to their kitchen porch, to twine around the columns. Someone finally pointed out what it was, after pretty much everyone in the family had the rash.

            Robert Parker

            December 16, 2017 at 8:23 PM

          • I’m currently in Boston, and looked up Boston Ivy. I wasn’t surprised to learn it’s related to Virginia Creeper, but I was surprised to learn it’s actually native to Asia & the same thing as “Japanese Creeper”. It turns red, too, but I haven’t ever photographed it

            Robert Parker

            December 16, 2017 at 8:35 PM

            • I hadn’t heard of “Boston” ivy. Let’s hope someday we get to see Parthenocissus tricuspidata turning colors in one of its native haunts: Japan, Korea, or China.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 16, 2017 at 9:05 PM

              • I will hope that, too.

                Robert Parker

                December 16, 2017 at 10:29 PM

                • In a similar way, I’ve thought for years that it would be gratifying to photograph Chinaberry and Chinese tallow trees in China, where they’re native. Both trees have become invasive nuisances in Austin.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 17, 2017 at 8:30 AM

                • Yeah, that would be a nice theme, everything in its native setting. Harvard arboretum isn’t too far from my apartment, and when I moved here this fall, I walked around the Asia section, and the Seven-son tree (large shrub) was blooming, never saw one before. That would be worth finding in China, too.

                  Robert Parker

                  December 17, 2017 at 9:02 AM

                • At http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=k450 I found: “This plant, native to China, is rare and may no longer exist in the wild. However, it has somewhat recently become available in commerce and is increasing in popularity as an ornamental shrub, though it may be difficult to find. It is a good source of nectar for butterflies in the fall.”

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 17, 2017 at 9:49 AM

                • It’s beautiful, and great to have something like that blooming in the fall. I’m not a huge fan of mums or fall crocuses, this shrub is great.

                  Robert Parker

                  December 17, 2017 at 10:31 AM

      • I know Virginia creeper is native. Just saw pictures of it on a building in North Carolina (csyjr.wordpress.com) in photos by C.S. Young Jr. who lives there.

        Robert Parker

        December 16, 2017 at 8:18 PM

  2. Somehow I can see/imagine this as insects crawling on a tree. I have no idea why, but that makes it a creepy creeper in my mind.
    Have a wonderful Sunday,


    December 16, 2017 at 8:05 PM

    • I wonder if you’re thinking of monarch butterflies covering trees in Mexico:

      (I want to give credit to whoever took this picture but I haven’t been able to find out who it was.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2017 at 8:16 PM

      • What a spectacular sight.


        December 17, 2017 at 6:22 AM

      • It might be something like that, I assume. But I really can’t say why my first thought on seeing this picture was that of insects.


        December 17, 2017 at 11:33 AM

      • I loved today’s post, but this brings Ooh and Aah to a whole new level! ❤


        December 17, 2017 at 11:37 AM

        • Hi, Lynda. I’d thought of you earlier this morning after seeing a reply of yours to a post a few years ago. Now here you are. Naturally I’m always happy to have confirmation that a photograph of mine raises Ooh and Aah to a whole new level. You can imagine how excited I was when I spied this tree and happened to have my camera equipment with me.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 17, 2017 at 11:42 AM

  3. Both pictures are incredible – the vine and the butterflies. I had been stalking various patches of what I thought was Virginia creeper while in Mississippi, waiting for it to go bright red. Instead it just changed to very subtle shades of green and orange. It was still attractive, in a modest way. The poison ivy coloured up beautifully.


    December 17, 2017 at 5:13 AM

    • If poison ivy weren’t “poison” it might become a popular garden plant thanks to its hardiness, its colorful fall foliage, and the many places it grows natively.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 17, 2017 at 8:06 AM

      • Good point. At least in autumn you can pick it out easily enough to avoid it.


        December 17, 2017 at 9:25 AM

        • I’ve occasionally pointed that out to people.

          On rare occasions I’ve found Virginia creeper and poison ivy growing together and both turning colors at the same time.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 17, 2017 at 9:53 AM

  4. Thanks to your comment to one of my past posts, I now know Virginia Creeper. Your specimen is particularly splendid.


    December 17, 2017 at 5:57 AM

  5. The creeper seems to be competing with Jack’s Beanstalk.


    December 17, 2017 at 6:25 AM

  6. What a glorious swath of color. Your inclusion of the name five-leaf creeper, which I’d never heard, helped with the identification of a single vine I found on the Willow City loop. I’d thought it might be Virginia Creeper, but it was so far away I had to use my telephoto lens for a photo. When I looked just now, sure enough: five leaves. I read that it’s sometimes called “five fingers.” That’s certainly apt, given its propensity to climb.


    December 17, 2017 at 8:48 AM

    • I think I found and used the name “five-leaf creeper” when preparing an article for Texas Highways in the early 2000s. You can see why the magazine preferred that name. Botanically speaking, each of the five “leaves” is actually a leaflet, and together the five leaflets make up one compound leaf. Botanists refer to the “fingers” arrangement as palmate, likewise a reference to the configuration of a hand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 17, 2017 at 9:42 AM

      • And I just learned that some of the palms on Las Palmas also have palmate leaves, while others have pinnate leaves. Some of our palmettos have palmate leaves, as well; it seems there’s no end to the fun that can be had with that group of related words.


        December 17, 2017 at 11:07 AM

        • I’ve confirmed that even in Roman times the word palma designated both ‘the palm of a hand’ and ‘a palm tree.’

          I’d toyed with mentioning pinnate in my previous reply. That word is based on Latin pinna, which meant ‘feather,’ whose elements grow along opposite sides of the central (or often off-center) shaft.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 17, 2017 at 11:37 AM

  7. I am so glad you make the effort to get the shots you do, Steve.

    Want to hear a good one? Yes or No, I’m telling you anyway. 😉
    I had a fellow working on our fence this summer try to convince me that “you can get the same allergic reaction from Virginia Creeper that you get from poison Ivy.” I tried to convince him otherwise but he wasn’t having it. My theory? The two vines were growing together and he only ID’d the five leaves in the tangle. Ah well; I guess being that cautious that maybe he won’t get a rash next time.


    December 17, 2017 at 11:49 AM

    • When I saw how lush and red this Virginia creeper was, if I hadn’t had my camera equipment with me I’d have driven home to get it and return, even though that would’ve meant about 9 miles each way.

      That’s a good story you tell. I’ve read that many people confuse the two vines, and that seems to be what the fence worker had done. I’ve often found poison ivy climbing way up a tree, with leaves on the vine only up high. The problem for people is that even the leafless parts of poison ivy contain the rash-causing ingredient. I’ve occasionally seen Virginia creeper and poison ivy mixing on the same tree, so it’s likely your explanation is the right one. As you say, though, there’s no downside to being overly cautious.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 17, 2017 at 12:06 PM

      • To further confuse the issue I have seen the Virginia creeper in its immature stages (2 to 3 ft) sporting only three lobed leaves and then eventually producing five leaflets per set. Best to be cautious at all times I guess. 🙂


        December 19, 2017 at 11:46 AM

        • When it comes to danger, at least a creeper with three leaflets is a false positive, which is to say it doesn’t actually pose any risk to people. As you suggested, it’s still better to be safe than sorry.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 19, 2017 at 12:28 PM

  8. We folks in Virginia like this plant too.


    December 17, 2017 at 12:52 PM

  9. […] The previous post, which showed a lush Virginia creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) with richly red leaves, engendered a few comments about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). That’s understandable because some or perhaps many people confuse the two vines, even though Virginia creeper normally has five leaflets and poison ivy three (but check out a post from 2015 showing a rare exception). […]

  10. That creeper is on a colourful mission .. hope it’s not invasive? Just love the shot of the monarchs .. a stunner


    December 20, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    • Virginia creeper is common in central Texas but I haven’t found it to be invasive. A bit of it came up naturally in our back yard and climbed a tree, but the vine has been well-behaved and hasn’t taken over.

      I found the picture of the monarchs on the Internet but haven’t been able to find out who took it. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to go to that place in central Mexico and get some pictures of my own.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2017 at 5:22 PM

  11. Quite a display of foliage, and clearly an excellent use of the photographer’s crouch. I must be mindful these days when I try that position that I am able to get up again. Not as easy as it once was!

    Susan Scheid

    December 24, 2017 at 9:05 AM

    • That’s a good phrase: the photographer’s crouch. I’ve heard at least four photographers complain in the past year—including one just the other day—about having a harder time getting up than they used to. I’ve noticed it, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2017 at 11:22 AM

  12. It is a lovely image, Steve. A good reward for your efforts. I’m quite jealous. I remember one year the virginia creeper and the poison ivy both were blazes of color, complementary shades of red screaming up many a tree trunk around here. Since then, not so much. I suppose we have drought at the wrong time, and the leaves all fall off before they can really get going.


    January 10, 2018 at 5:21 PM

    • In general this fall wasn’t good for poison ivy or Virginia creeper here. That made this find all the more valuable, particularly as a Virginia creeper plant in my neighborhood that I’ve relied on in other years didn’t do much this time around. Let’s hope next fall treats us both better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2018 at 11:24 PM

      • That sounds good. Now you and Eve have been to so many places. I’ll bet you wish you could travel instantly to your favorite places at key times of the year. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?


        January 11, 2018 at 10:49 AM

        • Yes, I’ve had that fantasy. Even in Austin I’ve sometimes lamented not being able to visit every good location at the same time, especially during the spring. Inevitably I end up missing some pictures that would have been good.

          One “problem” with having visited so many places in the last two years is that I sometimes get confused about which place we visited on which trip. My photo archive sets the record straight when I need to know; that’s a big advantage of digital photography.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 11, 2018 at 12:07 PM

          • Indeed. I can well imagine that problem arising as you and Eve have covered a lot of ground.


            January 13, 2018 at 10:21 AM

            • Yes, covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 13, 2018 at 10:52 AM

              • Where next? You’ve given me the travel bug, vicariously 🙂


                January 14, 2018 at 9:26 AM

                • Good question. An elderly friend of ours died at age 90 last month, and I’d agreed some years ago to scatter her ashes at a nature preserve in Massachusetts. With that in mind, the Northeast will probably beckon this summer.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 14, 2018 at 10:17 AM

                • That is a beautiful mission. Do you think you might be angling up through Illinois at all? It would be wonderful to see the two of you again. I’ll treat you to dinner!


                  January 15, 2018 at 10:33 AM

                • We’d like to see you again, too. We’ve made no plans yet for that Northeast trip, not even whether to drive all the way or to fly and then rent a car. Driving gives us the greatest flexibility and opens the possibility of a northern route on the return. It’s all still far away, but on the other hand time passes quickly these days.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 15, 2018 at 12:09 PM

                • Yes it sure does.


                  January 16, 2018 at 8:43 AM

  13. I’ve just finished writing about this plant but after seeing your images, I see that it doesn’t get as red here in Florida as it does in Texas.


    July 28, 2018 at 6:21 PM

    • Coincidentally I drove past that spot yesterday and thought a few months ahead, hoping the Virginia creeper would put on as good a show there as it did last year. I guess it’s just colder enough in central Texas to bring out more color than you see in the species in Florida. Even for here, this was a particularly good specimen.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2018 at 9:02 PM

      • I see. Perhaps in northern Florida it gets more red than in the southern part. It’s actually used ornamentally, its cousin is the Boston ivy up north. However, Boston ivy is not native to the U.S.. They grow it on building facades.


        July 28, 2018 at 9:11 PM

        • I just checked the distribution map and found that “Virginia” creeper grows from Guatemala to Canada. It can obviously tolerate the cold, so I don’t understand why people up north needed to import a species from China and Japan.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2018 at 9:32 PM

          • This is the info I found: ‘Virginia creeper is hardier than Boston ivy, growing in zones 3-9, so is often used where Boston or Japanese ivy (P. tricuspidata, native to Asia, zones 4-8) does not survive.


            July 28, 2018 at 9:38 PM

            • So why would anyone bother with the non-native “Boston” ivy at all?

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 28, 2018 at 9:39 PM

              • ‘English ivy’ which is the other ivy (Hedera helix ) must have attracted a lot of attention since it was used all over Europe as ornament on buildings and royal castles. It clings on even stronger than Virginia creeper or Boston ivy through root hairs. This English ivy is still used and may even be preferred over Virginia creeper for this kind of thing. It´s not the same as Boston ivy however, but I think it became an architectural fad up north, and it´s now highly destructive as it grows over seedlings and food that wildlife needs.


                July 28, 2018 at 10:15 PM

                • Yes, many people plant the English ivy, which as you say can easily take over.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 28, 2018 at 10:17 PM

                • Oregon State has already banned it, but it continues to be sold as a popular plant elsewhere. It has a smaller leaf than the V. creeper and no tendrils, but minute adventurous roots.


                  July 28, 2018 at 10:29 PM

                • I didn’t know that Oregon has banned it. It seems the plant’s roots are too adventurous.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 29, 2018 at 5:25 AM

                • I found out why ‘English ivy’ (Hedera helix) is preferred over this one in northern States. It remains evergreen, that’s why. This one goes dormant and the whole plant suffers a ‘dieback’. English Ivy, however, remains evergreen throughout winter, so building structures that have it growing on them don’t need to have it pruned back nor anything. It probably became a gardener’s choice for this reason.


                  July 30, 2018 at 9:07 AM

                • Ah, so that explains it. Thanks for your research.
                  By the way, the genus name Hedera is the Latin word for ‘ivy.’ Latin hedera evolved to Spanish hiedra (also spelled yedra).

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2018 at 9:31 AM

                • So that’s for ‘ivy’, how about for ‘vine’? I read that for ‘vine’ it was ‘cissus’ in relation to ‘Parthenocissus’. That’s interesting.


                  July 30, 2018 at 9:37 AM

                • The Romans borrowed cissus from the Greeks, whose word was kissos (we have to remember that in Latin the c sounded like a k, regardless of which vowel followed it).
                  The English word vine comes, via Old French, from Latin vīnea, based on the vīnum that meant ‘wine.’ The English word wine goes straight back to the original Latin vīnum.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2018 at 9:48 AM

                • Origin and Etymology of hedera: New Latin, from Latin, ivy; perhaps akin to Latin ‘prehendere’ to seize. Could it be related to the verb ‘adhere’?


                  July 30, 2018 at 9:57 AM

                • I’m afraid not. At
                  you can confirm that adhere is from a different Latin source than prehendere, whose etymology you’ll find at

                  It’s tempting to speculate that Latin hedera might be related to hendere. Unfortunately there’s no evidence to clinch the connection.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2018 at 10:20 AM

                • The dictionary from Chile thinks it is related, although they don’t link it to English:


                  July 30, 2018 at 10:27 AM

                • I see what you mean, I got it confused with ‘sticking to’ or ‘pegarse de’ meaning.


                  July 30, 2018 at 10:31 AM

                • This is the word that caused me the confusion: ‘adherir’, which is the same as ‘adhere’:
                  You’re right, they’re not related.


                  July 30, 2018 at 10:35 AM

                • I think the ‘cissus’ of ‘Parthenocissus’ is used more for woody vines.


                  July 30, 2018 at 9:43 AM

                • I just checked and found that Greek kissos meant specifically ‘ivy.’ How woody Greek ivy was, I don’t know.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 30, 2018 at 9:52 AM

                • Apparently ‘Herera’ also, but must have some other origin I suppose


                  July 30, 2018 at 9:54 AM

        • And yes, it may put on more fall color in northern Florida than in the southern part of the state.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2018 at 9:33 PM

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