Blast from the Past: Parthenocissus vitacea, Vitaceae & Inosculation
For the second time ever, this year I won’t be spending Christmas with my family in Milan, so I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. For the occasion, this is the story of my late false Virginia creeper, which brings back fond memories of home.
At some point in 2009 when I was still living there, thanks to avian seed dispersal (aka bird poop), a seedling sprouted in a pot filled with compost, but otherwise empty, laying on the balcony of my parents’ flat. I was very familiar with this highly invasive plant as it’s a terrible pest in Milan’s countryside, especially when it competes with ivy (Hedera helix) and Clematis vitalba, together they smother anything they encounter. Still, it is a beautiful climber to train and it’s interesting year-round as it keeps going through dramatic colour changes, plus, the tendrils this species produces lack the adhesive pads which make the closely related P. quinquefolia, the Virginia creeper, able to anchor itself to walls, potentially ruining them. So I decided to raise the seedling, and I trained it until I moved to Glasgow in 2014. Unfortunately I didn’t think of taking photos to record the progress at the time, so what you see is sort of the best of what I was left with. In five years the plant developed a short, thick (~2.5cm/~1in) main stem branching into a few thinner ones, which I trained onto a fishing line spider web I strung between the copper rain drain on the right and the window shade clasp on the left.
As the stems kept growing longer -incredibly much longer each growing season, it is extremely vigorous- I continued weaving them to create sort of a net, or trellis pattern, to add even more winter interest when the leaves would have fallen leaving them bare. I also experimented a lot with inosculation, which is the natural version of grafting, when the tissue of related trees or parts of the same tree which come into contact end up fusing together. In the photos you can see some of the examples: a 90° angle union made by splitting a stem with the tip of a knife and threading through it another stem of similar age was probably the most ambitious, as polarity was totally disregarded, but not a single attempt failed and the Virginia creeper proved to be an excellent subject to experiment on. When it was about 2.5 years old it also started flowering profusely through summer, and producing clusters of blue berries, which are a beautiful accent highly contrasting against the fiery red coloration of the late summer and autumn leaves. Sadly, shortly after I moved the plant died of thirst while my parents were on holiday, but I still have its seeds so if they are still viable one day I will reproduce it again.
Note: I took the photos of the inosculation details a while after the plant had died, my mum has kept it there…so that’s why the stems look so thin and wrinkly!