Entwined by Vines

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Got vines?  I sure do... take virtual tour through the grape vine, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy vines hanging around my yard.



WILD GRAPE VINE (Vitis spp.)



grape vine on a fence


Wild Grape (Vitis spp.) can be desirable or undesirable depending on where it pops up.  It is a native that can provide food for birds and insects. The vines can grow as long as 15 meters and beyond.  Vines often grow up tree trunks and eventually out across the tops of tree canopies, shading out the trees' own leaves. As trees and vines mature, they can cause girdling of tree trunks as well. 


There are several species of wild grape that favor different habitats.  Wild grape seeds requires full sun to germinate.  This specimen started growing when an Ash tree was cut down and the area became fully exposed all day.  So keep an eye out in areas where landscaping and sun exposure may change in your yard.  Many "new" weeds that may have been shaded out could start appearing!  


Leaves are broad and slightly heart-shaped with toothed edges and 3 short lobes.


grape vine leaves



The vines have forked tendrils that help it grab onto structures and other plants.



forked tendrils




These tendrils can coil and wrap around fencing, small branches, stems, and other objects to climb and grip.



Grape tendrils




As the vine matures, the vine becomes dark brown, woody and flaky.  These vines are often used in crafts and wreaths.  Fruit is edible though they are not table grapes.  Flavor varies from tart to sweet and contain seeds, unlike your grocery produce.  




vine with fruit

early fruit



This vine was removed by pruning and pulling.  Once the vine is cut, you may find you can pull multiple feet of the vine away from your landscape.  There are also multiple herbicides labeled for woody vines that are available for tough areas.  Broadleaf herbicides can impact off-target plants as well, so use caution, especially if the vine is attached to a tree. 




NEXT!  VIRGINIA CREEPER (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)



Virginia Creeper on Maple




Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is another native vine that can be found in our landscape.  It is a member of the grape family (vitaceae).  This woody deciduous vine has palmately compound leaves with 5 toothed leaflets.  Leaves may vary with leaflets ranging from 3 to 7.  They may look slightly akin to our BUCKEYE tree leaf.   




virginia creeper

creeper on tree




Virginia creeper is also a strong grower like grape, reaching tree canopies and shading out other leaf canopies.  It can grow prostrate as a ground cover or up onto trees, other plants, walls and structures. 




creeper on ground




Virginia creeper tendrils have adhesive suction cups that fasten them to surfaces.  These suction cups are a useful ID feature when distinguishing Virginia creeper from other vines in winter.  




suction cups




Virginia creeper has extraordinary fall color showing bright red to maroon.  Unlike wild grape, the bluish-black berries of Virginia creeper are toxic to humans but are a beloved favorite of birds and wildlife.  




fall color

creeper berry




Virginia creeper is often confused for poison ivy, which also has a compound leaf and bright fall colors.  See below for more.




POISON IVY VINE (Toxicodendron radicans)



Vining poison ivy is another perennial woody, native vine found in Ohio woodland landscapes.  It is a member of the CASHEW family (Anacardiaceae).




poison ivy tree




Poison Ivy can be difficult to identify.  While the adage, "leaves of 3, let it be" is a great first tip, its appearance can still vary significantly from plant-to-plant and as it grows.  Poison ivy indeed has compound leaves with 3 leaflets that arise alternately on the plant stems or vines.  A "typical" poison ivy leaf can be described as having two mitten-shaped leaflets on the left and right, and a central, terminal leaflet on an extended petiolule (leaflet stem).  The terminal leaflet may appear to have two thumbs or small lobes.  I outlined this general shape below. Leaves are often shiny in appearance, especially when younger.


But keep in mind that nature never reads the handbook! Poison ivy is deceitful and leaflets can vary in shape significantly with margins being toothed, lobed, or entire.   It is often found in moist forested habitat but can show up in pastures, roadsides, and ornamental plantings.  It can grow as a ground cover, shrub, or a vine as shown here and spread by both seed and root.  And as mentioned earlier, is often confused with other vines, as well as young boxelder trees!  So use caution around those leaves of three.




poison ivy

poison ivy outlining the leaf shape
Note that below the poison ivy outline is a leaf of Virginia Creeper with the 5 leaflets.




Another great way to help identify poison ivy as a vine is the distinctly hairy vine itself.  Poison ivy attaches via "aerial rootlets" that grasp onto surfaces as they climb.  This gives poison ivy its signature hairy vine appearance.  These can help identify poison ivy even in winter without leaves. 




hairy vine


hairy vine




Poison ivy has impressive fall color from bright orange to deep red and has very distinctive WHITE berries in fall!  These are full of urushiol oil and are not for human consumption.  But birds love them!  




fall color of poison ivy

poison ivy berry



To kill the vine on a tree, you can cut  a section out of the vine.  



cutting poison ivy vine


Once the vine is severed from the ground roots, the vine will slowly die (shown: about 2 weeks after cut).  DO NOT BE FOOLED!  All parts of even dead poison ivy contains the rash-inducing urushiol oil, from the root, vine or dead leaf.  Always use protection when handling poison ivy, dead or alive, in landscapes, on trees, or even on logs that might be used for bonfires or fireplaces.  Smoke from burning poison ivy vine can result in severe allergic reactions in the mouth, nose, and airway.  NEVER burn poison ivy.


dead poison ivy vine



As you can see, I missed a few feeder vines and had to go back and cut again.  If you catch it early as a vegetative ground plant, you can mow it back to help control it.  As it gets woody and vines, it can become more of a challenge.  There are several herbicides labeled for control of poison ivy, commonly containing active ingredients glyphosate and/or triclopyr.  The challenge with vines is the risk to hitting the tree roots or trunk and causing damage, as well as other off-target plants.  Some products may include instructions or application methods which allow for more targeted applications.  Read instructions carefully and wear all personal protective gear for both the herbicide, and to protect from the oils of the plant.   Because this tree pictured is on a stream bank and near several aquatic habitats, we are limiting management to mechanical cutting due to the heavy restrictions many herbicides carry for application near water.   Make sure you take into account all label warnings.