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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15 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.

      • hamayoun says:

        how long/length the trunk of panax ginseng plant
        how much thickness trunk of the panax ginseng plant

        • Angelyn says:

          American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) does not have a “trunk” since it is an herbaceous plant and not a shrub or tree. It has a stem which is about 3-5 mm thick and about 25 cm tall.

  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.

  6. troy says:

    at what time of year primarily are the berries mature and do plants only flower yearly?

    • Angelyn says:

      Ginseng plants flower annually in the summer — after reaching a certain number of years of maturity. You can research this on sites dedicated to the growing of ginseng. The berries develop in late summer and mature in the fall.

      • hamayoun says:

        can we eat the barries of gensing panax root plant. how much is it better for health as compared with root

        • Angelyn says:

          I have not read or heard that the berries are edible and I would not eat them. If I find any berries, I plant them so that new ginseng plants have a chance to grow.

  7. Marc P says:

    I’ve been wanting to ask you about this plant that looks similar to Virginia creeper but not quite. Everyone tells me it is but I don’t think so. What’s your opinion. Here is a link to the photo on PhotoBucket if it works for you.

    http://i1287.photobucket.com/albums/a623/MarcPerroquet/notvc_zpse37a0e96.jpg

    • Angelyn says:

      Marc, here’s what I notice about the plant you photographed: Although it has five leaflets (like Virginia creeper) and although each leaflet has pinnate venation (like Virginia creeper), each leaflet also has a stalk (which is NOT like Virginia creeper). Also, it’s hard to tell from your photo whether all leaflets are approximately the same size or whether two of them are smaller (like Virginia creeper typically has).

      Is your plant a vine? Does it have tendrils with pads for attaching to objects and climbing upwards? (Virginia creeper does.) Does your plant grow in the range where Virginia creeper grows?

      For more photos of Virginia creeper, check out this post: http://identifythatplant.com/poison-ivy-looks-similar-to-virginia-creeper/

      My conclusion is that your plant is not Virginia creeper although it sure is tempting to call it that. There’s always the possibility that your plant is a variation of the typical Virginia creeper.

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