Kudzu has the reputation for the fastest growing and most aggressive. Poison ivy is likely the most feared. A few others deserve merit for most annoying.
I bet in the last 20 years I’ve had hundreds of people show me a sample of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and either inquire or try to convince me it was poison ivy. “That’s poison vine,” they’ll say.
Virginia creeper has leaves with five blades fanning out in a circular pattern. Poison ivy has only three leaflets per leaf. Virginia creeper has a relatively smooth bark, whereas the bark of poison ivy is almost furry.
Both are aggressive climbers and they often grow together. Pulling down Virginia creeper from a tree often means touching poison ivy. However, it does not contain the toxin that causes poison ivy dermatitis.
Virginia creeper does contain chemicals called oxalates, which can cause skin rashes in sensitive people. It also has bluish purple berries that are quite poisonous when injested. This can be a problem, since it often grows together with wild muscadine grapes.
If people aren’t careful they can mix a few in with their grape harvest. Children are especially prone to this, so we must be careful to point out the differences.
Virginia creeper can actually cause much more harm to trees and shrubs than can poison ivy. It grows faster and covers quicker. This hardy woody vine spreads voraciously, and the birds are unfazed by berries that would make us deathly sick.
Another thorn in the side of most homeowners is the trumpet vine, (Campsis radicans). Other than having beautiful bright orange flowers that attract hummingbirds this menace has no redeeming features.
Trumpet vine has leaves, which come out in pairs and are divided into multiple opposite blades. Each blade has a serrated margin. Along with elderberry trumpet vine is one of the few native woody plants with opposite compound leaves.
This woody vine, once established, will find its way into every tree and shrub on your property. It spreads by seeds and underground stems. Additionally, no part of the plant is edible. In fact, all parts are poisonous, though not life threatening. The only problem normally encountered is a mild dermatitis, nothing compared to poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
The third menacing vine to our backyards is one commonly called the “wait a minute” vine. Greenbrier, (Smilax sp.), is a woody vine with green stems with sharp spines. There are several common species around here. All have broad roughly triangular shaped leaves that emerge from the stems singly.
One redeeming feature is that the new emerging shoots are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. Take your victories when you can.
Controlling all three vines is difficult. About the only way is to separate the vines from their hosts. This often results in the desired plant being torn apart.
Sometimes cutting the vines off and treating the stumps with concentrated Round-up is the best method. I suggest not allowing them to achieve a strong foothold in the first place, which can be easier said than done.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School. (firstname.lastname@example.org)