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Is a Virginia creeper plant poisonous?

Virginia creeper, or Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is a deciduous vine found that is commonly mistaken for poison ivy. A member of the grape family, Virginia creeper has poisonous berries that may be fatal if ingested, as well as leaves that can produce skin irritation, although not as badly as the similar-looking poison ivy.

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Leaves of three, let it be

Found throughout North America in open woodland, alongside streams or in brush country, Virginia creeper can be distinguished from poison ivy with the rhyme "leaves of three, let it be; leaves of five, let it thrive," which points out the noticeable difference in toothed-leaflets between the two plants -- poison ivy has three-leaf leaflets, Virginia creeper, five. Other characteristics of Virginia creeper include green leaves that turn mauve, purple or red in the fall; small, white or green flowers that bloom in May and June; and blue-coloured, tiny clusters of berries that appear in the spring.

Human toxicity

The berries of the Virginia creeper are the most toxic part of the plant. The berries contain the toxin oxalic acid and other unknown toxins, which can be fatal if ingested. Symptoms of berry poisoning include nausea, dilated pupils, sweating, headache, weak pulse, face twitching, drowsiness, abdominal pain and vomiting or diarrhoea that possibly contains blood. While it is not as dangerous as poison ivy, the leaves of the Virginia creeper contain raphides, which can cause skin irritation in some individuals.

Animal toxicity

Virginia creeper is considered poisonous to dogs, cats and other small pets. Birds may have a particularly fatal reaction if they ingest the berries or leaves of Virginia creeper, which can cause renal failure, diarrhoea with possible blood, vomiting, dilated pupils, seizures, paralysis and lack of urination. However, berries are safe for fruit birds, including warblers, woodpeckers, finches, mockingbirds and chickadees, among others.

Emergency assistance

If you suspect that you have been poisoned by Virginia creeper, seek medical attention immediately. Small pets and birds that have ingested Virginia creeper should be taken to an emergency vet as soon as possible.

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About the Author

Leah Waldron is the head of Traveler Services at First Abroad, a gap year travel company based in Boston and London. As a travel, research and LGBT news writer, Waldron has publication credit on magazines and newspapers including "Curve Magazine," "USA Today," "The Sun Sentinel" and the "The Houston Chronicle." Waldron has a bachelor's and master's degree in creative writing from Florida State University.

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