HOUGHTON - Dennis Hicks owns a house in Houghton, and for about two years he noticed a vine winding its way up a mature maple tree. Although the vine looked nice, it soon started causing problems.
The vine in the Hicks' maple tree was a Virginia creeper, and he said he became concerned it was taking over the tree, so he decided to try to remove the two half-inch diameter vines.
"I cut them so they died," he said. "The tree died, too."
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
A five-leaf cluster of a Virginia creeper vine is seen here. The vine is sometimes planted as an ornamental, and although it isn’t an invasive species, it can be very aggressive, often killing host plant species it grows on.
Hicks said he had another experience with the Virginia creeper after his girlfriend bought a house in Ripley, and the yard, which had been untended for about 10 years, was covered with the vine.
The vines at the Ripley house were about one and a half inches in diameter.
In the Upper Peninsula there are many invasive plant species, such as garlic mustard and purple loosestrife, which can overwhelm and destroy native species. Then there are other plant species, such as the Virginia creeper, which are native but very aggressive and can be a problem if they're not wanted.
Local botanist Janet Marr said determining if a plant species is just aggressive or invasive can sometimes be tricky.
"Invasive is kind of subjective," she said.
However, Marr said invasive is often defined as non-native to a particular locality and, "It's likely to cause harm to the local economy, environment or human health."
Invasive species may do all or some of those things, Marr said.
Marr said she has seen Virginia creeper over a large area of the eastern U.P. About the only way to get rid of the plant is to destroy it at the roots. However, if not all of the root is taken out, it can grow back.
"It can be aggressive," she said.
The younger the plants are, the easier it is to get them out of the ground, Marr said.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Service (plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_paqu2.pdf) defines the Virginia creeper as a woody vine with five-leaf clusters. The berries are highly toxic to humans, leading to death in some instances, and some people are sensitive to its sap. The leaves start out green, but in autumn they turn bright red, which makes them desirable to many people as an ornamental plant.
Some people confuse Virginia creeper with eastern poison ivy, but the latter has three-leaf clusters.
The USDA website states the Virginia creeper will grow up any tree or shrub up to 60 feet high or up to 50 feet on the ground.
If left alone it will kill the host plant.
Eradication of the vine can be done with chemicals or by mechanical removal, according to the website. Trying to remove the vine from walls while it is alive can actually damage the wall.