Woodbine is a climbing woody vine typically found sprawling over bushes and rocks. Its tendrils usually lack sucker disks and are few-branched (3–5 branches). It can climb up to 30 feet high.
Leaves are alternate, palmately compound, with 5 leaflets; leaflets 2½–4 inches long, 1½–2½ inches wide; margins coarsely toothed; upper surface green, glossy; lower surface paler, net-veined, smooth, the veins sometimes hairy.
Stems are smooth, reddish to grayish brown, later brown to gray; pores are prominent, somewhat grooved; tendrils are few-branched and usually lack sucker disks. On older trunks, bark is brown, irregularly broken in to small, peeling plates; park of even older trunks is dark brown, tight, with shallow grooves and ridges.
Flowering is in late May–July. Flowers are yellowish green, small, 10–60 per cluster; petals 5, recurved (bent backward); stamens 5, extending beyond the flower.
Fruit matures in September–October. Fruit is bluish black berries, about 3/8 inch across, globe-shaped, in somewhat flat-topped clusters, clusters lacking a well-defined central axis; stalk red. Seeds 1–4 per fruit.
Similar species: Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia) is common throughout the state. Its tendrils usually have 5–8 (up to 12) branches (not 3–5), and most of the tendril tips have small circular adhesive disks; its flower clusters usually have a well-defined central axis (woodbine’s clusters lack a well-defined central axis).
Habitat and Conservation
The berries in this genus have thin flesh and are not palatable to humans (indeed, those of Virginia creeper are reputedly poisonous).
The bark has been used medicinally in an infusion as a tonic and expectorant, and as a remedy for dropsy.
The stems are sometimes used in basketry and other crafts.
It’s been in cultivation since 1800. It is sometimes used to cover rocks, arbors, and bushes. The red, sometimes yellow, fall foliage makes it an attractive ornamental.