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I have ordered a climbing plant "Boston Ivy - Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii'" from an online nursery in the UK. However, the nursery sent me a similar looking, but very different species "Virginia Creeper - PARTHENOCISSUS ENGELMANNII". The nursery sells both plants online, and the pictures online are listed against the correct plant. I complained and send pictures of what I received, and I immediately received an apologies about the confusion, and a promise to correct the order. To my surprise I received another pair of Virginia Creeper again! I complained again with more pictures, only to be told that what I have received is indeed "Boston Ivy"!

I have tried to explain to the nursery the difference between the two and that clearly what I received is not Boston Ivy but Virginia Creeper. I explained that Boston Ivy leaf has this distinct three sides Boston Ivy and that the Virginia Creeper has the cluster of leafs Virginia Creeper has the cluster of leafs

Is there an authority on plant naming that can confirm the distinction between the two plants? They nursery themselves do believe their identification is absolutely correct and I am not sure what is the best way to challenge them in the absence of a real plant identification authority.

2 Answers 2

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This is where the full Latin name for a plant is essential; Boston Ivy is just a common name, and any horticultural person at a garden supplier would not persistently describe a plant that way IF the customer uses the Latin name. Parthenocissus tricuspidata is the one you want; what they have supplied appears to be Parthenocissus quinquefolia (which may or may not be the variety 'Engelmanni'). The second part of the name, 'tricuspidata', refers to the three points on the leaves, that's why its part of the name; 'quinquefolia' means five points, and it's quite apparent there are five points to the leaves on the plant they have sent. I'd suggest you get back on the phone and speak to someone who knows the Latin names, or email them and point out the different names to someone who is qualified, for they should easily recognise that you have been sent the wrong plant. And don't fall into the trap of allowing them to use the common names...quote the full Latin name for each of the plants and explain why they're named that if you have to, since they've not bothered to use the middle part of the name on the plant they supplied.

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  • No confusion: the Latin names specify the 3-point and 5-leaf patterns. And though Virginia Creeper can grow 10 yards in one season over 1 yard max for Boston Ivy, and will turn bright red in the Fall, the uses are different. Virginia sends out tendrils; Boston uses sticky feet to adhere to walls and trees. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 15:32
  • @YosefBaskin Parthenocissus quinquifolia also spreads at least 60 ft/28 m horizontally. It's native in my area and 125 to 100 years ago was recommended as a good vine for planting next to a house, which was a HUGE mistake (which is why they eventually stopped recommending it). My non-gardening neighbor has it in his yard; it is slowly eating his garage and is eyeing my fence. The only good use for it, IMO, is at the base of red pines (Pinus resinosa), where it can climb to its hearts content and decorate the trees in the fall.
    – Jurp
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 20:26
  • I was not recommending Virginia Creeper, but differentiating between the two. It grows in my yard and all over the temperate US. I did not see any in the Painted or Mojave Deserts. Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 20:33
  • Thank you, I will try and challenge them based on the latin names, but TBH I doubt it will mean much to them. I was hoping there exist an official organisation that has an authority to arbitrate on naming confusions.
    – Meitham
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 7:55
  • But bear in mind someone at the supplier is horticulturally aware, given the nature of the response you received initially, ie., apology and replacement. Commonly, you'll find there's one knowledgeable horticultural person with other staff members who are not at all or only lightly horticultural in any plant supply company, so there clearly is someone there who should be able to sort this out, but you will need to be insistent. Be confident in your argument; its not difficult for the company to look up both plants in, say the RHS dictionary and compare the images and descriptions.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 11:54
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If the nursery needs photos to confirm ID, here are two pages from the Missouri Botanical Garden that show that they're wrong:

Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquifolia 'Engelmannii'

Boston Ivy - Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii'

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  • this is where the problem is: I cannot refer the nursery to a US based organisation as they can easily claim that organisation is wrong! We have a similar charity in the UK called RHS but even that isn't considered an authority on naming plants!
    – Meitham
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 7:51
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    There's nothing complicated about the name/ID of these two plants; they are not obscure, only recently discovered items, they've been known about for decades. You do not need a separate authority to back up your claim that you've been sent the wrong plant, its quite obvious to anyone with half an eye that you have. If it helps, I'm a Master of Horticulture with RHS qualifications,but that doesn't mean they will concede, they just don't want to send out another plant because of costs. Tell them you'll leave bad reviews for them everywhere you can if they don't send the right plant or a refund
    – Bamboo
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 12:06
  • Bamboo is right - if they won't take a US source - US being the area of the world where Virginia Creeper is a native - especially a Botanical Garden run by an actual US state that is larger than many English shires, then they are bad actors and DESERVE to have bad reviews left about them. Tell them you want a refund or replacement by the end of this week and if they don't comply then complain to whatever organizations exist that can help you and splatter a 1 star review everywhere you can. These jerks give the nursery trade a bad reputation; people like them seriously tick me off.
    – Jurp
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 1:44

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