Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

January, 2008

Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea)

by MG Marian Kimbrough
Reprinted from Galveston County Master Gardeners Magazine published by Galveston County Extension Office - Issue 159 - November 2007, originally with photos by Herman Auer and Margie Jenke, Master Gardeners, Galveston County.

Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea L. Koehne), a close cousin of grapes, is native to Texas. Robert A. Vines in his book, Trees, Shrubs & Woody Vines of the Southwest, indicates that it is also found in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, eastward to Florida, northward to Virginia, and west to Missouri. Other common names include 'Buckvine' and 'Cow Itch.'

Peppervine (photo by Margie Jenke)
The desirable characteristics of its colorful berries, good ground coverage, trellis climbing ability, pest resistance and tolerance of adverse weather conditions are the same characteristics which often make it undesirable in cultivation. It will quickly overtake 'gardens' and kill out any desirable smaller plants that happen to be in its path.

Peppervine produces an abundance of colorful berries, with each berry containing two to four seeds. The fruit is attractive food for birds and large mammals as a minor food, and for smaller mammals as a food lower on their choice of items. Wherever the feasting birds and mammals go, peppervine seeds go, too-the seeds are dispersed in their droppings, increasing the spread of this very vigorous plant.

This vine is often mistaken for poison ivy--make that commonly mistaken. Laurel Stine (MG 2002) stated that Galveston County Master Gardeners get numerous submissions each year of peppervine from residents thinking they have poison ivy. The specific characteristics of this plant are a deciduous woody stalk and vine, with non adhesive tendrils that occur opposite and closely resemble native grapes. Newly emerged leaves are purple-red and change to a light green to dark green as they reach mature size.

Peppervine has inconspicuous greenish white flowers opposite the leaves from June through August, and the berries appear from September into late fall. As a cluster of berries mature, their coloration gradually changes from green to white to red to shiny blue-black. Berries on a given cluster mature at different rates; thus, clusters will typically consist of differently colored berries.

Management options of the peppervine plant must be both consistent and persistent over two or more years for whichever management approach is utilized. The best management option for most gardeners is hand pulling, especially during the spring season to prevent flower buds from forming. However, since it has a very deep tap root, often, an older more developed plant stalk should be cut near the ground, treating the cut stems with a broadleaf herbicide. It is advisable to check with your local County Extension Office for advice on what herbicide to use, or if you are unsure whether you are dealing with peppervine or poison ivy as neither is desirable! Be sure to take proper precautions when preparing to control the spread of plants/weeds by the use of chemical methods.

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