While Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) gains more fame from cloaking the outfield walls at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Boston's Fenway Park and the brick homes in New England, the Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia) is equally as ornamental. Also called woodbine, Virginia creeper's leaves comprise five jagged-edged leaflets. Native to the eastern United States, gardeners grow it as a sprawling ground cover or a high-climbing vine. Vigorous and large, one Virginia creeper plant can grow 30 to 50 feet tall and nearly as wide on a vertical surface.
Virginia creeper's vines clasp and attach to vertical surfaces via modified stem structures called suckers or holdfasts. These clinging tissues make the Virginia creeper a self-adhesive vine; no support or tying is required for the stems to remain attached to brick, mortar, wood, vinyl or aluminium building faces. Lifting up the leaves on the Virginia creeper reveals small, spiderlike pads -- numbering five to 10 -- that radiate out from a thin side branch on the vines to secure to the vertical surface.
Since it's a native to a wide array of soils and climates across the eastern U.S., Virginia creeper is well-adapted to many garden settings and grows vigorously accordingly. It grows in sand or heavy clay, in full sun or heavy shade. In spring and summer when actively growing, the numerous floppy stems of new growth clasp and cover anything they come in contact with. When grown on a large building, repeated and considerable pruning maintenance is required to keep windows, sills, gutters, doorways and other facade features clear of stems and leaves. If not maintained, a building will be fully covered and masked by Virginia creeper.
While the growth of Virginia creeper vines and holdfasts on a building facade by itself does not damage the structure or facade, it does create a dilemma. Once the vine is on a building, removal of it is problematic. It's easy to cut away and defoliate the Virginia creeper, but the clasping holdfasts remain on the facade. Pulling at vines and holdfasts can pull off facade materials or fasteners. Concrete facades or sturdy brick facades are not usually damaged when vines are removed, but loose components can be pulled off with the holdfasts. Scraping and sanding is needed to remove all traces of holdfast tissues from a building surface.
Weigh the benefits and liabilities of Virginia creeper maintenance and use on a building thoroughly before planting. The dark glossy green leaves in summer and brilliant red-orange fall colour visually softens the building and provides shade to the surface in summer. Once devoid of leaves, you see the building surface's condition. Constant pruning is needed to keep the plant in bounds; it is not a plant for a small single- or double story house. Do not use this plant on vinyl siding or painted wood facades, as there's not way to repaint or easily repair once the vine is attached. Less concern arises on solid brick or concrete buildings.