Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Virginia Creepy .. I mean, Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

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.

{{loud sigh}}

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!***

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fiona said...

Ha ha!

Your post really made me smile ... I ADORE virginia creeper for the gorgeous crimson in autumn, but then I don't have one at home threatening to take-over my house, lol!!

Thanks for posting the interesting information about it :-)

Unknown said...

Thank you Hedgewitch! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. (and btw I love your blog!)

My property really is infested with it. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't make me so itchy! :)

Anonymous said...

WOW, just googled this page up trying to figure out how my wife got poison Ivy so bad.....though none exists on our property,but tons of this Virginia Creeper does!!!!!! Thanks for the info

Unknown said...

Your poor wife! Alas, I know how she feels. I'm glad the information was helpful, and that now she'll know to avoid it, too!

David Chesler said...

Any idea how to deal with the rash? Maybe I could find some poison ivy and make tea out of it?

I've got this stuff all over my yard in greater Boston, Massachusetts. It spreads by runners across the yard, and hangs off the trees. (I've let my back yard go fairly "natural" for no nobler a reason than laziness.)

Last summer and just now I've gotten what looks like nasty poison ivy. I haven't been travelling through strange fields, and my kids play in the yard underdressed. I'm going to do a skin test, but I'm pretty sure I've developed the allergy. (I went to an allergist. He said he didn't have a test for it, but if it makes me itchy, I probably do.)

Any particular hints in getting rid of it? I suppose my best bet is to hire someone who is not allergic to rip it all up.

Unknown said...

Hi David!

I know there are some people who ingest poison ivy as a way of "innoculating" themselves against it, but I'm not one of them. It's not a new idea but I wouldn't eat poison ivy (or the creeper) or drink the tea if you paid me to. I've also read that this is a process that must be done slowly over time, to build resistance.

Unless you want to spray your creeper with some serious herbicide, which I strongly oppose, then getting someone to rip it out for you probably is the best idea. I'm so sensitive to it I can't even pull it out with long sleeves, pants and gloves on! I'll warn you though, I've seen it come back even after being ripped out by the roots. The only thing I've discovered that (sort of) keeps it at bay after removal is to plant something (non-irritating!) in its place and choke it out. Maybe a harmless ivy or other evergreen ground cover or vine. Sorry I'm not more helpful. I really despise the stuff.

I know you didn't ask, but I'll take this opportunity (for other readers) to say my favorite poison ivy and Virginia creeper treatment is Plantago, or plantain. For me, it helps tremendously to chew up a few leaves and rub them onto the rash. It not only helps with the itch but shrinks tissues and helps to clear away the sap, as well. The longer you can leave it on there, the better. I also put a big bunch of it in the blender with a few cups of water, blend it all up, and add it to my bath, along with some oatmeal and maybe some dried clay. Soak for a while then pat dry and don't use any oily or greasy products over the rash. The sap gets down into your skin and you don't want to cover it up and hold it in there.

Charley said...

I was googling to find out edible uses for these Creeper berries.
Where I live this stuff grows like crazy, but only where I water it. I live on the Western edge of the Great Basin, at the foot of the White Mountains in Eastern California.
It gives us good shade, climbs up and hides things like old unused big satellite dishes and bad sculpture, and provides excellent habitat for rattlesnakes and scorpians.
Neither my wife nor I seem to be allergic to the contact, and we would sure like to find a use for the berries. Maybe we can concoct some kind of snake oil for the rest of y'all to use to immunize yourselves against the itchinh by soaking the berries in cheap gin or vodka?
Please post if you know about making some kind of jam or liquor out of the berries.

Felicia Brown said...

Leanne -

Thanks for your comments and info about home remedies. I am so allergic to this stuff that if I am just near it or breathe the pollen it gives me a terrible headache and I feel nauseous almost instantly. If I actually get it on my skin I usually end up at the doctor for a steroid shot and prescription.

Unfortunately VC grows all over our heavily wooded property and we just can't seem to get rid of it. I like the suggestion about planting some type of ivy to choke it out and may try that. My husband loves ivy and I made him get rid of what was growing up the side of our house (I felt like we were living at "The Addams Family" house!)

If you hear of any other remedies, treatments or successful ways to get rid of the stuff, please let me know!

Alan said...

I usually get a light case of poison ivy 2-3 times a year. I get a nasty case about once every 5 years...even to the point where I scar up. I have a large pink scar on my leg about the size of a child's hand from a case I got this time last year.

But in the past year I have had a constant case of what I thought was poison ivy. I am constantly broken out on my arms and legs. My dog is also broken out on his belly. Through a process of elimination I came to the conclusion that I am getting it from my dog. I have combed the backyard (my dog’s only quarters outside of the home) looking for the plant. I know I have VC but no poison ivy.

I pull down the VC and toss it in the trash. I am usually wearing gloves in the garden so I have gotten rid of what I pull up without any exposure.

Just last night I decided I would intentionally rub the plant on my back and see what happened. I also decided to surf and see what I could find. Your site was the 1st I visited. I bet I have a break-out...tough way to find out but I gotta know!

I have a steroid cream that I put on at the first sign of a rash. It takes 2 days to zap it if I catch it on day 1 of the out break. It has become a ritual that I rub my arms and legs every day looking for the 1st signs of an out break.

Now that I'm aware people have problems with VC, I will attack it with more zeal! Maybe my dog and I can get some relief!

My wife is fortunate to have no reaction to any kind of plant. I have 3 Chihuahuas. The male and I break out. My wife and the 2 females don’t. Must be nice!

Anonymous said...

I was pruning my bushes and didn't know Virginia Creeper could cause an allergic reaction. Long story short I pulled tons of VC mixed in with those bushes in spring 2008 and never saw poison ivy. Wound up with a horrid "poison ivy" like rash. Took Prednisone x6 days but it came right back after. Total rash time=5 weeks.

In fall I was so mad at the last rash that I decided to cut out 20 bushes from my foundation garden. I did that, saw VC. Saw no ivy. Got another horrid rash. This time on day 3 I went to Dr. for Prednisone and had to take 10 days of it, terrible side effects, and it came back after that and I had it again x5 weeks.

June 2008 I weeded VC with leather gloves & long sleeves. Got a horrid rash. The rash was just like Poison ivy but very welted up and red, high and wide welts with dots on top of some of it. Friend says "looks like my VC allergic reaction rash".

Also in 2008 my DH got a horrid rash also large welts of red, raised high and wide with only some dots on top, had to take Prednisone too, still it lasted over 3 weeks total.

We now think some of our "poison ivy" rashes are actually VC allergy rashes.

VC is all over my yard. It grows over 20 feet a year. It seems unstoppable.

Now that I think I'm allergic I'm petrified to do anything in the yard!

Between the deer ticks and Lyme Disease and the Ivy and VC it's a dangrous jungle out there.

Jo-Ann said...

I sure got a good laugh from your opening statements. I'm with you there. Why would anyone want to plant it. I spend a fair amount of my gardening time pulling it out then scratching and itching for the next week or 2. Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

Almost 3 weeks ago I weeded my front garden. 2 days later I started a rash & thought it was poison ivy, even though I didn't see any. However, there was Virginia Creeper and lots of it. I have had the worst itch, rash and oozing I have ever had. It is starting to clear up but it is UGLY. People have asked me what I have. I even has to wear large gauze pads on my arm because it would start oozing. Many sleepless nights, too. One thing that really helped start to dry it up was 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water warmed in microwave, be careful not to burn yourself but as warm as you can stand. Soak gauze pads and place on rash and let sit. I kept dipping gauze in the vinegar mix and putting it back on rash for 2 days and I couldn't believe the difference. Caladryl did not help me. Try it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. I was just visiting Alabama & pulled down VA creeper from Mom's house. Having been extremely sensitive to poison ivy for 30 years, I know the plant well (I live on a farm in VA, amateur naturalist). I am now broken out in an extreme reaction and can only assume it was the VA creeper. Have you heard of any remedies with Jewel Weed?

Anonymous said...

I have had so many people tell me that VC is not poisonous, but it seems that all I have to do is look at it & I get a nasty, oozing rash. Until I searched online today I didn't even know the name of it..my family just calls it "that nasty 5-leaf stuff". It takes prednisone to clear up my rash. For help with the itching, try this: Take a hot shower..as hot as you can stand it without burning yourself. Your rash will itch & burn VERY intensely for a few moments & you have to keep it under the hot water until the itching stops, but tough it out because it will stop the itching & burning for up to 8 hours. My doctor told my to try this & I thought she was crazy, but it works for me. She told me that histamines are the cause of the itch & the heat of the water causes the histamines to come to the surface--that's why it itches so intensely for a few minutes..it takes your body a while to produce them again, thus the relief from itching for a while. Also, we all know that hot water will make your skin dry out, so it helps to dry out the rash too. I have to say it is a beautiful plant in the fall, but that doesn't make up for the misery it can cause!!!

Anonymous said...

I found your delightfully well-written site while looking up the treatment for having poisoned myself with a virginia creeper berry. www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Parthqu.htm
My little oxalic-acid berry was hanging amidst wild grapes, but my lips and tongue began to burn the instant I crushed it. I spat it out and traced that vine back more carefully. Rookie mistake, to bite something you're not CERTAIN of first.
Just beware about trying them. If you thought your reaction to the leaves was bad.... Phyllis

(Of course I once knew someone who knew someone who enjoyed black nightshade berries, so it's POSSIBLE VC could be edible to some. Not worth the price of being wrong, I think.)

Anonymous said...

huh. I would not recommend eating the berries from this plant. if you do you may end up like me looking on the net to find out ifthey arepoisonous. I mistook them for stunted grapes (north) but afteracouple of minute=s my mouth started burning and hasbeen for the last hour. apparantly they contain oxalic acid. definitely not edible. maybe if you cook them the acid breaks down? don't eat them raw!

Anonymous said...

I will try anything!! Thank you for your post!! I am exactly the same!!!! I have developed a high sensitivity to this plant, cause I know that I haven't been around poison ivy. I just pulled some weeds a few days ago, and a Virginia creeper, and now I have a rash!!! And it's spreading!! Calamine lotion doesn't even touch it! I used to pull arm gulls of this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Boiling in several changes of water, perhaps with baking soda, can help reduce the oxalic/oxalate levels in wild plants, but they should still be eaten in moderation, or as a garnish, as they ultimately bind calcium in the body.

Higher oxalate plants, including garden-variety, dark, leafy greens, are specifically contraindicated for people predisposed to making those sorts of kidney stones.

Alex said...

Caldryl won't help but Technu helps me when I've been exposed to creeper.