Lord have mercy. I almost had a heart attack when I first read that there are people who actually *plant* this vile stuff. Wikipedia has a glowing page on it, but let me tell you, the stuff makes me ITCH. I honestly think it affects me more than poison oak/ivy. I developed this strange Creeper "allergy" about five years ago after many, many years of pulling armloads of it off of my property. I also discovered that there are many folks who think it *is* poison ivy. Well, it's not, but apparently they are good bedfellows and love to lay up together, plotting their next territorial takeover.
So, here's what I found: Virginia Creeper sap contains oxalate crystals and can be a skin irritant to some (like yours truly), and is definitely an irritant if eaten (shiver). The California Poison Control System lists it as a skin irritant. I can't imagine why all of them don't! It is *very* vigorous and will take over your property in short order.
Although it pains me, in the name of fairness I think I should list what it's good for. Just don't stuff your britches with it until you know for sure that *you* aren't sensitive to it, too.
If we're gonna say it, let's try and say it correctly. "Parthenocissus quinquefolia" - par-then-oh-KISS-us kwin-kway-FOH-lee-uh.
- a valuable cover for trellises, tree stumps, walls and rock piles (whatever)
- enhances the appearance of older buildings (like tombs, where no living being can be eaten alive by it)
- it has pretty autumn color (so do saddleback caterpillars, ever given one of those a squeeze?)
- The fruit is edible. You know, if you're lost and the woods and starving to death. It is also supposedly good for treating fevers, but I've not tried it, obviously. The stalks and roots can also be cooked and eaten.
- According to Foster and Duke's Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, Eastern and Central North America, a tea made from the leaves is aperient, astringent and diuretic, and is used as a wash on swellings and poison ivy rash. I find this terribly ironic. A tea made from the plant is used in the treatment of jaundice, and a tea made from the roots is used in the treatment of gonorrhea and diarrhea.
- Mrs. M. Grieve said it is stimulating, diaphoretic and cathartic. You can read the rest of what she had to say about it here. Lots of people on the web have copied and pasted her info about it.
- Virginia Creeper berries are eaten by a variety of animals (birds, deer, skunks, mice, foxes, and the Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar eats the leaves). A truly redeeming characteristic.
- Some invertebrates and amphibians (including my favorite, the American Toad) use the foliage of Virginia creeper as shelter, and may be responsible for assisting in pollination as they move from plant to plant. Okay, I'm softening up a bit. Anything for my sweet little toadies!
***See the comments for this post for more information on Virginia Creeper!***