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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29 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

    • Carol O'Brien says:

      Dear Sue,
      I don’t wish to be rude but how about a dictionary ! I must confess I too had no idea except for palmate . That was just obvious based on the way I was raised . Please don’t take offense . I’m just old and I’m wondering if this is how things are done now ? I would’ve been told to “look it up in my funk and wagnals!” No one knows what that means anymore . Lol

  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.

    • 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:

      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.

  8. Gorden says:

    Very informative and great photography. Thank you

  9. doug reeves says:

    Is there any species of virginia creeper that can have red berries in the fall? I have a simlar plant but it gets red berries in the fall. Marc, my plant looks a lot like the one in your photo.

    • Angelyn says:

      I have not found that any species of Virginia creeper would have red berries. I have also diligently thought about and searched for the identity of Marc’s plant. To date, I have not been successful.

  10. Dave says:

    With the help of your site, I now know I have a huge crop of … Virginia Creeper in my woods. Thanks a lot. Was hoping I could retire early. 😉

    I’ll keep looking though.

  11. george says:

    I have found a plant with the same berries as ginseng but leaves are different. I’m in Ontario canada

  12. Heather says:

    I have the same plant as Mark P. I too, was hoping it was ginseng, as I am desperate for money. It seems to be a vine, of sorts, but the ‘vine’ runs under the ground. I dug a couple up to be sure they were NOT Ginseng. 🙁 They do not grow a single stalk 23cm tall, tho they do appear to, until you dig around the base, and discover the ‘vine’.

  13. Marc, it does look like Virginia creeper to me, too, but there is another plant that grows here in the Ozarks that looks remarkably close to both ginseng and creeper when it’s very young- the Ohio buckeye. When those trees are little saplings at the same height of the ginseng they fool even the experienced at first glance. The biggest difference I see between your leaf and ginseng is the lack of the two smaller leaves. All of the leaves in your plant, and all of the ones that resemble ginseng, are close to the same size but ginseng has two very noticeably smaller leaves.

  14. Shari says:

    Now I know my trailing vine is in fact Virginia Creeper, how do I deal with aphids? My beautiful vine is great for a curtain between my neighbors and my house, but the aphids have eaten it almost see through on top. The plant has started to replenish itself but only from the bottom up. How do I get rid of these tiny white pesky bugs?

  15. The first image is “Panax Ginseng”, followed by 2 “Virginia Creeper”images, ending with 3 more Ginseng photos. The tell is Ginseng leaves have their own “stem” on each leaf & nothing like it does. :- )

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