Quick Facts about Virginia creeper:
Callers to the poison center ask, “Is Virginia Creeper poisonous?” or “What happens if someone eats Virginia Creeper vine berries?”
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a vine that has five-leaf clusters joined by stems with small, greenish flowers that mature into purple/black-colored berries in the late summer or early fall. Some confuse this vine with poison ivy. However, Virginia Creeper grows in clusters of five leaves, whereas poison ivy has clusters of three leaves (leaves of three, let it be!). Virginia Creeper’s sap lacks the oil responsible for the dreaded itchy poison ivy rash.
Other names that the Virginia Creeper goes by are woodbine, false grapes, five leaves, American Ivy, five-leaved ivy, and thicket creeper.
What happens if someone eats a berry or leaf?
Virginia Creeper berries and leaves contain tiny needle-shaped crystals that are so small they cannot be seen without a microscope. If chewed, these tiny crystals can poke the tongue, mouth, and throat to cause irritation, drooling, and redness that occurs almost right away. If enough plant material is eaten, there can be swelling of the mouth and throat, resulting in difficulty swallowing and breathing — but this is RARE. The sap from the leaves and stems can irritate the skin of some people. If sap falls on someone’s skin and a rash forms, proper first aid is essential to help keep it from spreading. This is not the same as a poison ivy rash!
The most common call to the poison center involves children tasting a berry or leaf from the plant thinking the berry will be sweet. Yet, one taste is enough to let them know this is not the case. If someone ingests only a small amount of berries or plant material, they can be watched at home with the guidance of the Missouri Poison Center.
What to do if someone does eat a piece of the Virginia creeper plant
If you find someone has eaten a small amount of the Virginia Creeper leaves or berries, do not panic. Wipe out the mouth with a soft, wet cloth. If the child is able, instruct them to swish water in the mouth and spit out. Repeat several times to remove any plant material from the mouth. After, give them some water to drink. Wash any exposed skin with soap and water. If problems start or you have questions, call the Missouri Poison Center right away at 1-800-222-1222. The poison center is open all day, every day for poisoning emergencies and questions.