Sunday, August 5, 2018

Virginia Creeper Is Worth It

Virginia creeper in fruit
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a rambunctious native vine that is generally welcome in my yard (with a little light editing). However, I know that there are many gardeners who either curse it or are afraid it is actually poison ivy (the two plants can look very similar as seedlings when a Virginia creeper might start with 3 leaflets instead of the normal five).

It’s hard to find for sale, of course, so I potted up a few of my seedlings for an upcoming fall plant sale because there are always a couple people that ask for it (and I like a sale that has a few out-of-the-ordinary things).

Nessus sphinx moth caterpillar

I got a little pushback from a fellow sale committee member about including it when there are so many other native vines that people would want. It wasn’t two days after that conversation that I found what many butterfly and moth enthusiasts already know: Virginia creeper is a host plant. This chart from Illinois lists 15 different moth species that use it as a host.

I found the caterpillar of the Nessus sphinx moth (Amphion floridensis) on one of my potted Virginia creeper plants. I found two caterpillars on the same plant, one was light green and the other had already turned light burgundy.

I found them in the morning when this particular species can be found at the base of the vine, resting overnight. Thanks to the Caterpillars of Eastern North America (which is a great book), I was able to identify this when many other sources do not acknowledge Virginia creeper as one of its host plants.

Nessus sphinx caterpillar almost done
Nessus sphinx moth burrows into soil for the next phase

I decided to bring them into a cage and raise them like I do some butterflies. I included a pot of dirt for them and they both eventually pupated in the soil. I don’t know if I’ll get to see them emerge as an adult; I put the pot outside for now. Here is a picture of the day-flying adult moth from Wikipedia.

Nessus sphinx moth adult (Photo credit)

Of course, in addition to being a host for insects (more than just moths, by the way), Virginia creeper produces delicious berries for birds and has fabulous fall color.  Yes, it can be an aggressive vine but actually most vines are aggressive.

I think it is the lack of showy flowers that cause people to discount this vine as a worthy plant in the home landscape. I’m here to say that it has plenty of reasons to be a part of what you grow in your wildlife garden.

Virginia creeper's modest flowers
Virginia creeper fall color


  1. Fall color makes it one of my favorites—would love to see this excellent plant the place if English Ivy in our landscapes!

  2. I've always loved it for its fall color and it’s berries.

  3. Love this blog! Perfectly answers my question about why I never see Virginia Creeper for sale -- will be transplanting what I find to places where it can climb.