When you find Virginia Creeper growing in your garden, it’s easy to mistake it for the much rarer ginseng plant, but the plants have distinct characteristics. While the leaves of a Virginia creeper are similar in size, the Ginseng plant has three large and two much smaller leaves. As the seasons change, identification becomes easier with a stark contrast in berries and leaf color.
Continue reading to discover the differences between the two plants, how to identify each and what they are both used for. You’ll learn how to quickly spot Virginia Creeper or Ginseng by discovering the unique traits of their leaves, berries, growth habits, and flowers.
What Is Virginia Creeper?
Virginia Creeper is a woody vine commonly found in ravines and wooded areas. It is native to North America and identifiable by several leaflets present on one common stalk, also known as a compound leaf. One Virginia Creeper compound leaf will generally house five leaflets.
The Virginia Creeper is a hardy plant that can tolerate a range of soil, light, and moisture conditions. If allowed to grow freely, it can become invasive. Additionally, its dark blue and blackberries are toxic and, if ingested, can prove fatal.
What Is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a perennial, also native to North America. Like the Virginia Creeper, it houses between three and five clusters of leaflets per plant. However, Ginseng is far rarer than Virginia Creeper and not so versatile.
American Ginseng prefers to grow in the shade with richly organic soil. It is an endangered species in the wild, but people continue to harvest it for its aromatic roots.
What Are The Differences Between The Leaves Of Virginia Creeper And Ginseng?
Both plants have compound leaves that can often lead to confusion as to which plant is which. Both are oblong and have a toothed pattern around their edges. But, the Virginia Creeper is far more coarsely toothed than Ginseng, and these serrations stop before they reach the base of the creeper.
Ginseng, by contrast, has serrations around the base of the leaflet. Another way to tell the two plants apart is to look at the size of the leaflets. The leaves on a Virginia Creeper will all be around the same size, whereas Ginseng generally has three larger and two smaller leaflets per cluster.
During autumn, the leaves on a Virginia Creep will turn bright red, whereas Ginseng leaves will turn to a shade of yellow later in the season.
What Are The Differences In The Growth Habits Of Virginia Creeper And Ginseng?
Virginia creeper is a climber which uses its tendrils to wrap around plants and other surfaces for growth. It can grow vertically with the support of trees and other structures, or it will sprawl across the ground. On the other hand, Ginseng remains low to the ground and does not branch out; instead growing in clusters.
How Else Can I Tell The Difference Between Virginia Creeper And Ginseng?
Along with their difference in growth habits and leaf structure, a few other key differences can help you tell the difference between Virginia Creeper and Ginseng.
Virginia Creeper lacks petioles – the small stalks that attach each leaf to the central stem, whereas, Ginseng has petioles on the three larger leaves (and sometimes the two smaller ones).
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between the two plants is when they fruit. While a Virginia creeper produces dark blue and blackberries, which are poisonous, Ginseng produces red berries.
What Are The Uses For Virginia Creeper?
People often view Virginia creeper as a nuisance with its toxic berries, which can be fatal to humans, and oxalate acid in its sap which can cause skin irritation. Additionally, Virginia Creeper will cover any plant it uses to grow and can suffocate and kill its host. Once established, Virginia creeper can be challenging to remove.
However, the plant is particularly useful in nature. There are a variety of birds and small animals that feed on its berries, and the thick foliage of the plant provides ample shelter for these animals. Additionally, it is the host for several of the Sphinx moth species.
Although it can be harmful to humans, we have used its roots, bark, and leaves in various medicines. Furthermore, the plant makes the perfect cover to prevent ground erosion.
What Are The Uses For Ginseng?
Ginseng is widely harvested and cultivated for the array of health benefits it provides, from boosting energy to lowering blood sugar, reducing stress, and managing male sexual dysfunction.
While we still require conclusive research as to the extent of these benefits, people consume the roots of the Ginseng plant to help improve cognitive function, lower cholesterol and treat diabetes. It is among the world’s most popular herbal medicines.
Is There Another Name For Virginia Creeper?
There are many common names for the Virginia creeper, including five-finger, five-leaved ivy, false grapes, American Ivy, woodbine, and thicket creeper.
Is There Another Name For Ginseng?
A common alternative name for Ginseng is man root because its root forms a shape that resembles a man. It can also be called Schinsent.
How Do I Identify Ginseng?
Ginseng plants can grow up to 15 inches tall. A stalk will generally sprout three sets of leaves that then sprout into their own clusters.
When you observe one of the lead compounds, you should see a spread of five leaves, with three bigger leaves and two smaller at the base. When the plant is still maturing, only the three biggest leaves may be visible for the first couple of years.
The base of Ginseng’s leaves is broad, while the tip is pointed. Their leaves carry serrations all the way around, and flowers begin to appear somewhere between their second and fourth year of growth.
What Do The Flowers Of A Ginseng Plant Look Like?
One ginseng stalk can house between 30 and 50 flowers on average. Generally, the flowers are a shade of green that carries either a yellow or white hue. They contain both sexes, the stigma, and stamen and form a rounded shape as they grow.
How Do I Identify Virginia Creepers?
The Virginia Creeper can climb to heights of 60ft when supported by trees or other structures. If there are no supports nearby, the creeper will sprawl out across the floor. The five leaflets of the compound leaf are similar in size and have a prominent toothed serration.
However, this pattern does not continue all the way down the leaf, and the base of a Virginia creeper’s leaves are often rounded smoothly.
What Do The Flowers Of Virginia Creepers Look Like?
A Virginia creeper will bloom with a set of inconspicuous flowers from June to July. Forming a green, ball-like structure, they can add a point of interest to the plant. However, if you have children, it may be better to remove them as they are poisonous.
Hi, I’m John Stephens, chief editor and writer for Totalgardener.com. I’ve been gardening and raising animals for over 15 years starting with a small backyard plot in Northern Virginia where I grew corn, potatoes, squash, and using a high mulch technique called the Ruth Stout Method. I also raised ducks and small mammals for meat and eggs in a movable pen similar to the ones used by Joel Salatin. I later moved to Colorado where I experimented with growing greens using aquaponics inside. I eventually added a microgreens setup and home sprouting operation. I’m excited to share everything I’ve learned plus more from the other local gardening and animal raising experts I know.