Woodbine is a climbing woody vine typically found sprawling over bushes and rocks. Its tendrils usually lack sucker disks and are few-branched (3–5 branches). It can climb up to 30 feet high.
Leaves are alternate, palmately compound, with 5 leaflets; leaflets 2½–4 inches long, 1½–2½ inches wide; margins coarsely toothed; upper surface green, glossy; lower surface paler, net-veined, smooth, the veins sometimes hairy.
Stems are smooth, reddish to grayish brown, later brown to gray; pores are prominent, somewhat grooved; tendrils are few-branched and usually lack sucker disks. On older trunks, bark is brown, irregularly broken in to small, peeling plates; park of even older trunks is dark brown, tight, with shallow grooves and ridges.
Flowering is in late May–July. Flowers are yellowish green, small, 10–60 per cluster; petals 5, recurved (bent backward); stamens 5, extending beyond the flower.
Fruit matures in September–October. Fruit is bluish black berries, about 3/8 inch across, globe-shaped, in somewhat flat-topped clusters, clusters lacking a well-defined central axis; stalk red. Seeds 1–4 per fruit.
Similar species: Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia) is common throughout the state. Its tendrils usually have 5–8 (up to 12) branches (not 3–5), and most of the tendril tips have small circular adhesive disks; its flower clusters usually have a well-defined central axis (woodbine’s clusters lack a well-defined central axis).
Stems can grow more than 30 feet long.
In Missouri, this species is rarely found. It occurs along banks of streams and rivers, bases and ledges of bluffs, and less commonly in bottomland forests and mesic upland forests; also in fencerows. Most often found scrambling across gravel bars and bluff ledges or through low thickets. (Virginia creeper, by contrast, often climbs up trees and telephone poles.)
Uncommon and widely scattered in the state.
The berries in this genus have thin flesh and are not palatable to humans (indeed, those of Virginia creeper are reputedly poisonous).
The bark has been used medicinally in an infusion as a tonic and expectorant, and as a remedy for dropsy.
The stems are sometimes used in basketry and other crafts.
It’s been in cultivation since 1800. It is sometimes used to cover rocks, arbors, and bushes. The red, sometimes yellow, fall foliage makes it an attractive ornamental.
Though people can’t eat them, the berries are eaten by birds and small mammals. Turkey and deer sometimes eat the young shoots and leaves in spring and summer, and the fruits in autumn. The flowers are visited by a variety of bees, flies, wasps, and beetles. Some animals, including squirrels, eat the bark in winter.
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.