Virginia 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 . . .
The 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 . . .
Ginseng’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.
For more detailed photos of American ginseng, visit the post for Mystery Plant 015.