Woodbine announces coming of fall

Jerry Apps
The colorful Woodbine vine announces coming of fall.

Walking near my pond in summer, I see various vines crawling up the trunks of the many trees that grow there. Wild grape vines are the most prominent. They are everywhere, sometimes growing to the very tops of trees. I often overlook another vine that competes with the grapes. I seldom notice it until mid-September. It’s called woodbine, and it is the first to announce the coming of fall as it turns a brilliant red.

Woodbine should not be confused with poison ivy. Poison ivy has three leaflets in a cluster. Woodbine has five. Woodbine is a native plant found across North America and southern Canada. It is not found in southeastern United States. Woodbine is widely distributed in Wisconsin, preferring wet soil, but it can also be found along fence rows, and even sometimes found in old farm fields with heavier soils. Woodbine will tolerate shady places, but for it to develop its brilliant fall color, the vine needs full sun. The color of woodbine, in fall, goes from shiny green to yellow, orange and then brilliant red.

Historically, woodbine leaves have been used to treat skin sores, cuts, and itching. Some people have also used the leaves to treat fever and kidney disease. One source of information stated “Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness” of woodbine for these maladies. I take from this—best to enjoy what the woodbine does well—announce the coming of fall with its brilliant display of red leaves.

As the beauty of fall spreads across Wisconsin from north to south, as the maples turn red and yellow, and later come the browns and tans of the oaks, we remember that it was the woodbine that was in the lead for this colorful annual display of nature's beauty.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: The woodbine reminds us that fall is here.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to