Wintercreeper Control

Wintercreeper is an evergreen vine forming a dense ground cover or climbing or trailing to 20 feet (6.1 meters) or more high. It has aerial rootlets and leathery opposite elliptic leaves that are veiny beneath. Numerous cultivars exist that exhibit a range of leaf sizes and colors. Branches are densely covered with minute warts. The small greenish flowers occur in clusters, with a long flower stalk. Fruits are globose and smooth in an orange capsule, maturing in June and July.

Similar Species

This vine differs from bittersweet (Celastrus spp.) because bittersweet has alternate leaves. It can be distinguished from other Euonymus spp. in that it is a vine rather than an erect shrub or tree. Wintercreeper should be accurately identified before attempting any control measures. If identification of the species is in doubt, the plant's identity should be confirmed by a knowledgeable individual and/or by consulting appropriate books.

Distribution

Wintercreeper occurs infrequently in the eastern U.S. It was introduced from Asia as a ground cover. In Missouri, it is frequently found near urban centers, with heavy infestations in woodlands in the St. Louis and Kansas City vicinities. It is commonly sold by nurseries today as an ornamental ground cover and may spread from plantings in any part of the state.

Habitat

This species occurs as a cultivated plant at home sites. It has spread into several types of forest, including floodplain, mesic and dry-mesic forest. It invades natural openings and relatively undisturbed forests.

Life History

Wintercreeper is a very aggressive perennial woody vine that climbs on rocks and trees as well as spreading over the ground. It tolerates full sun, heavy shade, and most soil moisture conditions, except extremely wet conditions. It appears to be spread by birds that eat its seeds.

Effects Upon Natural Areas

Wintercreeper can cover the ground and vegetation and eliminate native ground cover species in mesic and dry-mesic forests. It is a serious potential threat because it spreads so rapidly and replaces spring ephemeras. The Shirling Sanctuary in Kansas City's Swope Park provides an example of a mesic forest that has been seriously degraded by the aggressive spread of wintercreeper.

Control Recommendations

Recommended Practices in Natural Communities of High Quality

Initial effort in areas of heavy infestation

Vines should be cut by hand and each cut stem sprayed with Roundup (a formulation of glyphosate) just after the last killing frost. While the Roundup label recommends a 50- to 100-percent concentration of Roundup for stump treatment, a 20-percent concentration has proven effective. A squirt bottle may be used for spot treatment or individual stumps can be painted by hand using a sponge applicator. Treatment should be in late winter when most native vegetation is dormant and prior to the emergence of spring wildflowers. Care should be taken to avoid contacting non-target species with the herbicide. By law, herbicides may only be applied as per label instructions

Effort in areas of light infestation

In small areas, where practical, individual vines should be pulled up by the roots and removed from the area.

Maintenance control

The most effective control is to totally eradicate the species from the surrounding area where possible. Invading individuals should be pulled and removed as soon as possible after recognition.

Recommended Practices on Lands Other Than High-Quality Natural Areas

Initial effort in areas of heavy infestation

Same as above in areas where hand labor is available and where area affected is relatively small. In large areas, foliar spraying with Crossbow (mixture of 2,4-D and triclopyr) in autumn after the first frost can reduce the population. Crossbow should be mixed according to label instructions for foliar application and applied as a foliar spray. Spraying should be completed prior to emergence of spring wildflowers. Care should be used to avoid contacting non-target plants with herbicide. The herbicide should be applied while backing away from the treated area to avoid walking through the wet herbicide.

Effort in areas of light infestation

Same as described for high-quality natural areas.

Maintenance control

Same as described for high-quality natural areas.

Failed or Ineffective Practices

The following practices should be avoided:

  • Hand control: slow and labor intensive, making it impractical for large infestations.
  • Mowing: ineffective without chemical treatment and not practical in woodland.
  • Fire: often not desirable in mesic woodland.
  • Herbicides: should not be used during growing season when spring wildflowers and other native species are likely to be affected.
  • Manipulating water levels: not practical on sites where it occurs.
  • Biological control: no effective biological controls are known that are feasible in natural areas.
  • Introduction of competitive species: no native species known that can compete.

Key Messages: 

Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife.

Wintercreeper Invasive Species Fact Sheet

Use this print-and-carry sheet to identify and control invasive wintercreeper vine on your Missouri property. More

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