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Photo of Boston ivy -- a mature leaf.

Photo of Boston ivy's mature leaf.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Boston Ivy:

Plant taxonomy classifies Boston ivy plants as Parthenocissus tricuspidata. Cultivars include 'Purpurea,' the summer foliage of which is reddish-purple.

Plant Type:

Boston ivy plants are perennial, deciduous, broadleaf vines. These plants are true climbers, attaching themselves to masonry and wooden surfaces by means of holdfasts.

Characteristics of Boston Ivy:

In spring, the new leaves of Boston ivy are reddish. The leaves typically turn green in summer, before reverting to a reddish color in fall. The plants produce inconspicuous flowers, yielding to clusters of dark blue berries. Vine length of mature plants may reach 50 feet or more.

Planting Zones for Boston Ivy:

Indigenous to Japan and China, Boston ivy vines are best grown in planting zones 4-8.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Growing Boston Ivy:

Grow in partial shade to full sun in a well-drained, loamy soil. Planting Boston ivy plants in full sun allows them to achieve maximal fall color.

Growing Boston Ivy -- Uses:

Growing Boston ivy plants up garden arbors, pergolas and fences are all sound practices. Boston ivy is also often grown up walls, but see Caveats below.

Boston Ivy Plants vs. Virginia Creeper -- Identification:

Boston ivy is related to another vine, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). For identification purposes, look at my picture of Virginia creeper and note that Virginia creeper's leaf is a compound leaf, composed of five leaflets. Boston ivy's leaf may be compound on young plants but, in such cases, it will display three leaflets. Once mature, Boston ivy bears a simple, not a compound leaf (see picture, above right).

Care for Boston Ivy:

Boston ivy plants are vigorous growers. Prune the vines once per year, so as to check the rapid growth.

Origin of the Latin Name:

The Latinized Greek name for Boston ivy is something of a misnomer. Partheno- means "virgin" (as in "Virginia") and cissus translates as "ivy." But while its relative, Virginia creeper, is, indeed, native to Virginia, Boston ivy is of Far Eastern origin. Neither plant is a true ivy. Meanwhile, the specific epithet, tricuspidata, refers to the mature leaves of Boston Ivy: the leaves, while not compound, do have three distinct lobes.

Caveats in Growing Boston Ivy:

If you wish to allow Boston ivy to scale the walls of any buildings, make sure first that you desire it as a permanent fixture. Once Boston ivy gets a toehold, it is difficult to remove it from walls, so tightly do the holdfasts at the end of its tendrils hold it on the supporting structure. You could do damage to a wall in your attempts to rid it of entrenched Boston ivy. It is better to train Boston ivy to grow on trellises and similar structures (see above), unless you are sure that you want it as permanent "siding" on your wall.

Nor should you allow Boston ivy to climb trees that you care about: the shade cast by the vines will interfere with the trees' photosynthesis.

Boston ivy is poisonous if ingested, whether by people or pets, although wild birds do eat the berries. Some people also suffer from an allergic reaction to Boston ivy.


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