Winter creeper is an evergreen climbing woody vine that forms a very dense ground cover, an unfortunate trait common in invasive species. Also known as climbing euonymus, it was first introduced from China as an ornamental in the early 1900's. Traits that made the winter creeper a desirable landscaping plant then are the same traits that make it such a threat to our natural areas today.
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Winter creeper grows quite rapidly, even in harsh growing conditions. This shade tolerant plant forms in dense mats, depriving native species of space and sunlight. Winter creeper will also deplete soil nutrients and moisture from nearby plants, making growth and regeneration harder on the native species. The invasive plant colonizes by vine growth and its pink-capsulated seeds spread by birds, small mammals, and water. If allowed to grow out of hand, the vine will spread over anything in its way, even overtopping trees. The winter creeper's rapid growth, evergreen nature and tolerance of harsh conditions allowed it to easily escape cultivation and quickly spread to forests in every county of the state.
Managing Winter Creeper
As an evergreen, winter creeper can be spotted on the forest floor even in the dead of winter. Late fall or early winter would be a good time to eradicate juvenile plants with smaller root systems. Young plants can be hand-pulled; make sure no roots remain as they may re-sprout. The entire plant should be bagged and disposed of to prevent reestablishment.
Mature stands, however, are much more difficult to control. Both mechanical and chemical methods can be considered. For small populations, use a small digging tool to remove the entire plant, roots and all. In larger stands, use clippers to cut vines off trees and trunks; if necessary, cut down the vine to ground level. Allow winter creeper to re-sprout, and then spray the ground level foliage with appropriate herbicide. For more information on controlling winter, visit the U.S Forest Services and the Plant Conservation Alliance's Least Wanted.
What can you do? Remove all winter creeper from your gardens and backyard. Instead of the invasive species, plant native plants like American bittersweet or American wisteria if interested in planting pretty vines. If you must plant winter creeper, make sure to plant it next to concrete or lawns and do not allow it to climb - according to IPSAWG (the Invasive Plant Species Assessment Working Group) this will prevent production and seed spreading.