Virginia creeper and ginseng

Virginia creeperVirginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is one of those plants that can trip you up when you are looking for American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).  Especially in the spring and fall when there are no flowers or berries on the ginseng plant.  Let’s compare their similarities and differences.

Virginia creeper is a vine growing along the ground or up a supporting structure.  Sometimes, the vine is buried under leaves and so the individual creeper leaves look like they might be ginseng coming up through the leaf litter.  Here’s another photo of Virginia creeper . . .

Virginia creeperNow let’s look at a single Virginia creeper leaf.

Virginia creeperThe leaf is palmately compound with five leaflets.  Three leaflets are larger and two are smaller.  Each leaflet’s margin is toothed with teeth that do not go all the way around the leaflet.  The leaflets are sessile (no petiolules) and their vein pattern is pinnate.

Turning to ginseng in the spring season . . .

GinsengGinseng’s leaf is also palmately compound with five leaflets (three large and two small).  The leaflets have toothed margins and pinnate venation.  Now here are the critical differences from Virginia creeper.  Ginseng’s three larger leaflets have petiolules!  (Sometimes the two smaller leaflets also have small petiolules.)  And the toothed margin entirely surrounds each leaflet.  Another distinctive detail is that the teeth on the ginseng leaflets are smaller and finer while Virginia creeper’s leaflets have larger (more coarse) teeth.

If we were to see ginseng after it has flowered and after its berries have matured to a bright red, it is much easier to find and identify this plant.

GinsengThis closer view of the ginseng berries also shows the more finely toothed margins of the three larger leaflets along with their petiolules.

GinsengThis last photo of ginseng demonstrates, once again, the palmately compound leaves and leaflets with petiolules in the fall — after the berries have dropped from the plant.

GinsengFor more detailed photos of American ginseng, visit the post for Mystery Plant 015.

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7 Responses to Virginia creeper and ginseng

  1. Most excellent comparison post! Thank you for sharing!!!

  2. Pingback: Wood plants with whorled leaves | Identify that Plant

  3. linda peratt says:

    is this plant poisonous ie: poison ivy?

    • Angelyn says:

      Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quniquefolia) does not cause the same skin reaction that poison ivy does. However, the Virginia creeper berries are definitely poisonous and should never be ingested.

      Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is regarded as a medicinal plant. Its roots are the part used for medicine.

  4. Sue Barwick says:

    What does the word petiolules, palmately, pinnate venation, and palmately compound mean in laymend terms mean? This is a cool site to findout the differences between the 2 plants.

    • Angelyn says:

      petiolule — the stem to the leaflet of a compound leaf
      palmate — spread from a single point, like the spread of fingers from the palm of a hand
      pinnate — arranged like a feather’s pinnae, branching along a central vein
      palmately compound — a compound leaf where the leaflets branch from a single point, like the spread of fingers from the palm of a hand

  5. Betty Tolbert says:

    Thank you for making it easier to identify Ginseng.

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