It Came From the Woods

Go visit Windywillow for Trees of Halloween. Then continue down the page for Trees and Fruit of Autumn: a two-part Festival of the Trees!

Inside Jack

Each slice of the pumpkin carver’s knife lets a little more darkness out. The stringy remnants of Jack’s brain dangle like strands of spider web, or errant vines of some sinister creeper…

creeper locust

Nobody’s safe from the red menace! That’s right, I’m talking about Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). I used to think of it as just a pretty native species with berries that the birds love, but then I looked it up on the web (a world-wide web – how creepy is that?). Here are some of the testimonies of ordinary American gardeners, selected from Dave’s Garden, “the website where friends share their triumphs and dilemmas in their home gardens and their lives.” Slightly edited for spelling and punctuation.

This plant is HORRIBLE!! I have thought for years that it was poison oak and have been terrified to touch it. I have a bed of English Ivy in my front yard and this creeper pops up all the time. I just pulled one out of some photinia bushes I have and the roots ran for about 15 ft down the side of my house. … We found some growing into the Architecture library, it had worked its way through tiny cracks in the caulking around the old windows. … It comes up all thru my lawn. I have pulled and dug and chopped large roots of this. It is impossible to get rid of. I have even sprayed it with Round Up and everything around it died, but it flourished. My other neighbor said it causes him to break out in a rash. … I’ve learned my lesson to wear gloves, but talk about an evil plant. … Last week I was trimming weeds and pulled alot of this off my fence (without gloves–big mistake!!!) The next day my face was on fire. It went from redness to scabbing, and now I have what looks like dark burnt skin. It never got blistery or oozed like poison ivy. … I just completed taking a prescription steriod, am taking an OTC antihistamine and using Cortaid topically – nothing seems to be working. It just keeps spreading. … Virginia creeper is a menace in Pompton Lakes, NJ. … Anyone got some agent orange left over from Viet Nam?

creeper and shadows

Last week a neighbor tried to remove this Virginia Creeper. After trying unsuccessfully to get rid of it for years, he hitched a tow chain to it, then to his pickup, and pulled on it. He successfully removed 3 fence posts and the chain link fencing from a good portion of his ‘cyclone’ fence that was 4 foot high. I guess he was so mad at it he took out a small axe and started to chop it up into small pieces; alas there-by giving some of the smaller cuts a chance to live on. Next year, I guess, he might be getting a whole new yard full of them, and bombing the place out too. … The roots of this vile weed spread between our yard and the neighbors (on both sides!). It is EXTREMELY established in our block and we see there being NO way that we would be able to get all the roots. Is there a poison or some kind of miraculous Virginia Creeper killing weapon that we can use? We are anxious for any kind of solution people may have for the removal of this vile weed! … A trip to the emergency room seemed to be in order when my arms started swelling up. I’m taking a 12 day course of prednisone, and Benadryl. It seems to be helping, as the swelling’s gone away, and the blisters are no longer oozing but the itching is intense. … I can’t get away from this stuff! I moved last year from Philadelphia, PA, where it was battling with English ivy to take over my front yard, to Savannah, GA, where it grows at least twice as fast. When I moved in last June it was threatening to engulf my detached garage like kudzu. … Every kind of vine or invasive plant — native or nonnative — went crazy all over my yard. The worst, however, was Virginia Creeper, which crossed the lawns, attacked all kinds of trees and had me reliving Little Shop of Horrors. … I have discovered many long runners of this stuff all over my yard and it has grown up under the siding and forced pieces of siding loose. … This week I went and pulled some more because it was taking over my beautiful row of flowers all along the fence and WHAM. I have it everywhere on my body. It hurts, itches, is red and swelling. … My eye is almost swollen shut, it is around my mouth, ears, belly, legs, arms, fingers, etc. … Each blister itches like crazy and feels like a pin is inserted into each one of them. There are at least 1,000 blisters on me. This isn’t my worst reaction. That one caused a 4″x6″ bright red blotch on my forearm where ALL my skin was eaten away. The doctor had to stiffle a scream when he saw it. … Virginia creepers flattened several acres of woods where I grew up in New York. Where mature forest trees stood fifteen years ago is now low scrub with a vanguard of virginia creeper like some kind of space-slime invasion. … While spring cleaning the yard I noticed that my 8 foot azalea bush was dying on one side. Upon inspection I saw what looked like a demon vine wrapped around the branches choking it to death. My neighbor said it killed all his azaleas.

cable and creeper

So far at Dave’s Garden, 60 different people have warned against growing Virginia Creeper. But intermingled with these horror stories were 34 positive comments and 15 neutrals. Could it be that the creeper’s noxious power has somehow penetrated their brains?

In my yard, it’s vigorous but I wouldn’t call it invasive. Personally, I love the plant and especially the fall color. … I planted it against my garden shed to soften the hard edges. It was a small clipping that has been gradually increasing in size for the last 5 years and is only now reaching the top of the shed. … This vine grows all over my brick house, and I just love it. It keeps the house nice and cool in the summer, and sticks well to the bricks without damaging them in any way. The birds nest in it, and when the wind blows the sides of the house ripple like the ocean! It’s terrific! … I have not seen any of the evil side of it in 2 years of observation; it covers things well and in a short period of time, growing about 60 cm higher per year. Its foliage is visible from far away, and it produces berries that feed birds. … As a native American, it has its right to existence and I will not call a native an invasive. Weed, yes. A weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it. And I yearly remove it from the cultivated gardens. You will find it growing beneath trees mostly, because that is where birds drop the seeds. I know many of them are dependent on this natural food. … I love this plant. It turns a cheap welded wire fence into a 6 foot tall 2 foot wide wall of lush green leaves. It makes a terrific barrier between properties. … I was prepared to battle it to the death if it started to get out of control, but it’s simply spread up the fence as intended, and is easy to train. … It has caused no problems and we love it. It tends to grow over our doorway, and DH and myself have to pull or clip a new opening several times a summer, and neither of us have had any reaction to it. … I would recommend this plant, but only if you’re not the type who goes postal and runs for the roundup over three dandelions in your lawn. … For some of us that don’t get mad at a leopard acting like one, or a creeper that seems to always be creeping, it’s a wonderful addition. … It has nice foliage in the summer, berries for the birds and gorgeous fall color. What’s not to like?

People: still by far the scariest invasive species on earth. They give me nightmares.

Happy Halloween, though. I think I’ll dress up as myself and go visiting all the creepers with a spray-can of Agent Orange.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

7 Comments


  1. I’ve lived and gardened for decades around Virginia Creeper here in NE Missouri and never found it to be invasive. No rashes either! Perhaps it is more of a problem in other parts of the country….

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  2. These “gardeners” are really scary! They can’t tell Rhus radicans from Parthenocissus quinquefolia, and they’re looking to purchase Agent Orange. Yet they can type! Eeek! Runner for your life!

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  3. Thanks for the heads up on the Halloween trees, Dave. I have duly linked. Somehow I completely missed that one.

    I’ve got some Virginia creeper in my yard. It’s never taken over, nor given me rashes… but then I never attacked it with an ax, either. If someone did that to me I might bite back, too. Happy Halloween!

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  4. Oh, I meant to say I really enjoyed that top photo!

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  5. I’ve never heard of anyone getting so exercised by Virginia creeper. At our school it was all over some walls of the playground and no one got rashes that I knew of. I like to see it here since in this maritime climate we don’t get a great display of autumn colour and it adds a bit of zip.
    I do like the expression ‘going postal’, I’d never heard that before!
    The pumpkin is great, it hadn’t occurred to me one was gouging out Jack’s brains though. Adds an extra touch of the macabre…

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  6. Thanks for the comments. It’s hard to know what to make of that mesage string at Dave’s Garden; it certainly has some of the elements of mass hysteria, and like Rebecca, I found myself wondering if they really knew the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper. One can certainly image differences in how quickly it spreads based on soil and climate. I was especially bothered by the people who complained about it competing with their English ivy — a very invasive plant in most parts of the country. But of course the vast majority of invasive plants, insects, and blights were introduced by gardeners or nurserymen.

    Here, we find that deer herbivory keeps VC somewhat in check, judging by the profusion of it inside our 3-acre deer exclosure.

    Lucy – “Going postal” is a very common expression over here, deriving of course from the well-known tendency of disgruntled American postal workers to show up at work with semi-automatic handguns and take everybody out.

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