Vines are identified by the shape and color of their leaves, as well as their flowers and fruits. Lightweight flowering vines, such as clematis or morning glory, hide mailboxes, fences or other utilitarian structures. Dense vines provide privacy and can even make a green fence. All vines need some structure to climb on. Heavy vines, such as wisteria and hydrangea, require sturdy arbors or even buildings to support them.
You may want to identify an ornamental vine growing in the yard to properly care for it, or you may see a vine elsewhere and wish to grow it. Ornamental vines come in hundreds of varieties and serve many purposes. Some, such as Virginia creeper and ivy, don't produce significant flowers, but are grown for their foliage. Others produce lovely flowers. Many ornamental vines, such as trumpet flower and honeysuckle, attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
The leaf color of vines varies from the deep green of hydrangeas and wintercreeper to the lighter green of honeysuckle. Ivy leaves are deep green or variegated, depending on the variety. Several vines, such as Virginia creeper or ivy turn red or orange in the fall.
Vines produce leaves in varying shapes and growth patterns. Ivy leaves have a characteristic deeply cut, three-lobed shape with pointed edges. Wisteria leaves produce thin, elongated leaves opposite each other, similar to palm leaves. Trumpet vines produce rows of small leaves clustered together and resembling fern or locust tree leaves. Euonymus, or wintercreeper, produces small evergreen leaves, growing opposite each other. Hydrangea leaves are elongated ovals and deeply textured.
Some vines require identification because they pose problems--either because they are invasive, choking out native and ornamental plants, or they are poisonous. Kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle are two examples of invasive species. Kudzu is sometimes called "the plant that ate the South." It grows aggressively, covering and smothering everything in its path, including trees and structures. Honeysuckle vines aren't as heavy as kudzu, but they also crowd out other plants. Poison ivy grows as a vine in the eastern United States. It secretes an oil, uroshiol, that causes minor rashes to open sores and blisters.
Identification by Leaf Clusters
Poison ivy is sometimes mistaken for Virginia creeper, although closer examination reveals several differences. Virginia creeper leaves are deeply textured and have five leaf clusters. Poison ivy leaves are smooth or toothed and have clusters of three leaflets, hence the adage, "Leaves of three, leave it be." The leaves are usually elongated oval, but may also be rounded. Kudzu leaves form in clusters of three and the leaves themselves have three lobes. Japanese honeysuckle leaves are elongated oval and form opposite each other on sparsely filled vines.