Kentucky Plant Life - Vines and Creepers

Vines are weak-stemmed plants that require support to extend vertically. Vines climb by clinging, by twining, or by tendrils - small, flexible stems that wrap themselves around anything they contact. Grape vines use tendrils to climb in this way.

Twining vines wind their stems around any support within reach. Morning glories and honeysuckle are examples of twining vines.

Clinging or creeping vines, like the various types of ivy, climb by attaching to surfaces or extending roots into the ground as they grow and spread. The Virginia creeper, pictured at right, has touch sensitive adhesive pads on the tendrils of its stems and will cling to almost any surface.

The leaves of the Virginia creeper.
Photo Courtesy of the US Government

The Virginia creeper can grow to 50 feet (15 meters) or more and will climb vertically if a support is nearby. The plant generally has five leaflets and can be distinguished from poison ivy by the rough cut edges of its leaves. The plant is green in summer and a brilliant burgundy red in the autumn. Specimens of the plant can be found, however, with seven or three leaflets, mimicking poison ivy. The fall colors of the two plants are also quite similar in some instances.

Poison ivy grows widely across the state of Kentucky. This root climber is most commonly found spread along the ground at the edges of wooded areas, but given support, it will climb nearby plants, including trees, or if confined, will grow into a shrub type plant. In most occurrences this vine, (or shrub if it has no support to climb), has variably sized compound leaves with three toothed leaflets, although subspecies found throughout the region can display up to seven leaflets in differing shapes, thereby making it difficult to identify.

All poison ivy plants can cause a severe allergic reaction if handled. When the plant is contacted, it releases a oil, urushiol, that is a severe skin irritant.

Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, thus exposure to dead vines, leaves, or roots, can also cause a reaction. The oil can be transferred to tools, gloves, clothing, pet fur, and other surfaces, and later come in contact with human skin causing a reaction. In some instances, exposure to smoke from burning a dried plant can also cause a reaction, in which case a rash can develop on the lining of the lungs, causing extreme pain. If eaten, the oil from poison ivy can damage internal organs and the digestive tract.

Around one-quarter of the population suffers no allergic reaction to poison ivy initially. However, through repeated exposure over time, most, if not all folks will develop some type of skin rash.

In the photos below, on the left is a close-up of poison ivy leaves in the summertime. At right below, the top picture is an example of leaf color in early fall, and below that in the smallest picture is an example of poison ivy foliage color in late autumn. However, subspecies can be found in summer and fall that differ in color from all three examples shown below.

Poison ivy in the summer time.




An example of poison ivy's autumn leaf colors.


Fall foliage of the poison ivy plant.



For more information on poison ivy in particular, read The Ohio State University Extension Service:
Poison Ivy Fact Sheet.

Related Pages

Plants Puzzles and Games

For more information on a variety of plants:

KSNPC Rare Plants Database
Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission provides a searchable database where you can search by "common name", "scientific name", your "county name" or get a listing for statewide rare plants.

USDA Plants Database
You can search by scientific or common name, or do a state search and see a listing of plants in your state. There are over 30,000 images of plants, and a wealth of knowledge available on this site.

Plant Facts
A huge interactive data base with photos and videos produced and maintained by The Ohio State University. Their web site says they have: "merged several digital collections developed at Ohio State University to become an international knowledge bank and multimedia learning center"

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