Japanese ivy, also known as Boston ivy, is a spirited woody vine that clings to its support with little round adhesive disks on the tips of its tendrils. The vigorous vine can grow to more than 70 ft (21 m) in length, often topping out in a tree. The leaves are either three-lobed or lobed to such an extreme that they actually become three leaflets. The yellowish green flowers are small and inconspicuous, leading to blue-black berries that are eaten by wildlife. In autumn the leaves turn brilliant shades of red and purple before they drop. There are numerous selections in the trade including some with yellow, purple or variegated foliage. Many cultivars have been selected for their intense fall colors.
Location Parthenocissus tricuspidata is native to China, Japan and Korea. It has escaped cultivation and become established in parts of Europe.
Light: Japanese creeper grows well in full sun, but produces the most intense fall colors in partial shade. It thrives on walls or the sides of buildings that face north, east or west. Moisture: Grow Japanese creeper in a moist, but well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4-8. Propagation: Young, fast growing tips can be rooted in spring or early summer. The vine also can be propagated by layering. Seeds may require a period of cold stratification.
Boston ivy blankets a wall with foliage supported by woody stems outfitted with adhesive disks.
Japanese creeper takes its own support, attaching to whatever structure it finds itself on, whether a tree, wall, fence, trellis, arbor, pergola or slow moving vehicle. Use this vigorous climber to cover unsightly fences, walls or buildings. The vines often grow in a dense jumble of thick, crossing vegetation, providing cover and habitat for small wildlife, especially bird nests. Just be sure to prevent the vines from growing under roof shingles and eaves or into window casements and so forth, where they can do damage as the stems enlarge. On a pergola or arbor, prune Japanese creeper to a spur system, as you would muscadine grapes, by cutting the current season's growth back to just one or two buds each winter. This will cause the next season's growth to cascade symmetrically over the support. See Floridata's muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) profile for pruning details.
Japanese creeper is very similar to the North American native vine, Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia), but the later has leaves with five leaflets.
An alternate common name for Japanese creeper is Boston ivy. "Huh?", you say? The vine is often grown to cover brick buildings where it provides beauty and summertime shade on the sides of the building. This in many North American cities, but especially in Boston. Think of the Harvard University campus.
There are about ten species of vines in the grape family genus Parthenocissus. Some occur in eastern Asia and others in North America. The genus is named, in a sort of back-handed way, for the state of Virginia: Partheno is from the Greek for virgin. Cissus means vine. Why Virginia for a plant from Asia? Because the genus was first created for a species from Virginia that had the common name Virginia creeper: Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Check out Floridata's What's in a Plant Name for more taxonomic esoterica.