Peppervine is a rather slender, upright vine, either high-climbing or bushy, with tendrils present or absent. Its leaves are double-compound.
Leaves are alternate, overall 3–8 inches long, doubly compound (divided twice), with 9–34 leaflets; leaflets ½–1½ inches long, egg-shaped; margins coarsely toothed to deeply lobed; upper surface dark green, shiny, smooth (or with a few scattered hairs); lower surface lighter green, smooth, or with a few scattered white hairs, especially along the veins. Young leaves and shoots are sometimes remarkably reddish or bronze. Sometimes there are reddish blotches at the base of the leaf stalks.
Stems are erect, ascending, or bushy; with or without tendrils; young stems green to reddish, smooth or white-hairy; older stems tan to reddish brown, rounded or angular, sometimes roughened by oval, warty pores.
Flowering is in June–August. Flowers greenish white, small, in clusters ¾–2½ inches across; petals 5.
Fruit matures in September–October. Fruit first green, then pink or bluish to shiny black at maturity, globe-shaped berries, about ¼ inch long, often with warty dots, in clusters; juicy but not edible. Seeds 1–4.
Similar species: Peppervine, a member of the grape family, is sometimes confused with poison ivy and poison oak. However, those plants have compound leaves in threes and are not double-compound.
Stems of older plants can reach 65 feet in length.
Scattered in southern and eastern Missouri; introduced in Boone and Jackson counties.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in bottomland forests, swamps, and banks of streams and rivers; also on wooded roadsides. It is sometimes found sprawling and trailing along the banks of rivers or as a high-climbing vine. In the Bootheel, it lives in swampy lowlands and ranges along the Mississippi River north to the mouth of the Meramec River. Much of its habitat in southern Missouri has been eliminated with the impoundment of the White River.
The thin-fleshed fruits are not palatable to humans. The stems are sometimes used in basketry and other handcrafts. The lacy, dark green leaves are very ornamental.
Humans may not relish the flavor of the fruit, but they are eaten by birds and small mammals. Plants that live in streamside habitats are challenged by flooding and shifting substrates. They, in turn, challenge the power of floods by helping to stabilize the substrates by their roots.