People are frequently confused by these two plants when they are first learning to identify poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Although the individual leaflets are similar, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has five leaflets to each leaf while poison ivy has three. Let’s make some other comparisons between these “looks similar” plants.
Starting in the spring, here are photos of each plant as it begins growing new leaves:
The leaves of Virginia creeper become green as they mature:
Here’s a full-sized Virginia creeper leaf with its five leaflets. Note the leaflets all meet close together in the center of the leaf.
In contrast, poison ivy has the three leaflets and the center leaflet has a petiolule (a longer “stem’):
Here’s a cluster of poison ivy along the ground . . .
. . . and some branches of it growing up a tree’s trunk . . .
. . . to a leafy canopy of poison ivy within a tree’s leaves:
Here are three examples of Virginia creeper growing along the ground . . .
. . . hanging down . . .
. . . and climbing a tree’s trunk:
As poison ivy’s berries develop, they are in a cluster. Eventually, the berries will turn white.
The developing Virginia creeper berries, which will turn dark purple with red stems when ripe, look like this:
The leaves of Virginia creeper turn rosy and yellow as they age in the fall:
Similarly, poison ivy’s leaves also turn rosy and golden in the fall:
When poison ivy climbs a surface, it develops a “hairy” stem which is most evident during the winter season.
Hopefully, this comparison has assisted you in developing a strong mental image of poison ivy (a hazardous plant) and Virginia creeper (which looks similar). And perhaps you will now be better able to identify poison ivy in all seasons of the year.