Updated: Feb 25
Parthenocissus inserta, also known as Woodbine, Thicket Creeper, or False Virginia Creeper, is a perennial woody flowering vine native to Michigan and the UP. It is almost indistinguishable from its cousin, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia Creeper. Since they are both vines with 5 compound leaves that turn red in the fall, and the differences are subtle at best, both are commonly called Virginia Creeper.
While true Virginia Creeper climbs high and bears fruit high in the canopy of trees, Woodbine is described by Michigan Flora as scrambling over lower features like fences, shrubs, rock piles, and open areas. It will, however, climb trees when available, and true Virginia Creeper will sprawl when there is no support. Woodbine is not as good at climbing masonry, so if you are trying to cover a wall, the adhesive discs on the tendrils of Virginia Creeper will serve you better. If you want vine-free walls, the winding tendrils of Woodbine are less likely to take hold. Woodbine is far more common in the UP than true Virginia Creeper, so if you are like me, you may just now be realizing that the plant you have called Virginia Creeper all your life is actually Woodbine.
Woodbine can grow up to 30 feet long, and will root when it touches the ground. Be aware that when you plant it, it will be with you approximately forever. However, it can be confined to a fence or other structure with mowing, pruning if needed, or even cutting it fully to the ground in spring, and its habitat value cannot be overstated. Woodbine flowers early, in June or July, before many of the forbs (soft stem flowers) have gotten going. In the early season, Woodbine will literally be abuzz with life. The early flowers even attract hummingbirds!
The clusters of small white flowers are followed by grape-like berries which are not edible to humans, but are beloved by birds and other wildlife. Berries are a rich blue to purple-black on striking red stems when ripe. Although the flowers are not showy, the brilliant red foliage punctuated by rich berries is a highlight of fall.
Woodbine is the host plant for a variety of moths, including showy Sphinx moths, and many other insects make use of the stems and leaves. This plethora of insects feeds a variety of birds, especially during nesting season. Birds also use the structure of the vines for cover while feeding or even nesting.
Woodbine prefers partial sun and is comfortable with moist to medium-dry soils. It will tolerate full sun to moderate shade, and accepts rocky conditions. It climbs trees and sturdy shrubs without causing harm. Use Woodbine for covering fences, mounding over problem areas, creating privacy screens, or adding copious high-value habitat and rich fall color. You can even keep calling it Virginia Creeper - I promise not to tell.