Partly derived from the word “vine,” Ampelopsis is a genus of about thirty vigorous-growing, shrubby vine plants. Most of the plants in this group are also called porcelain berry, or even American ivy and false grape. Due to the twining growth habit via tendrils, it is oftentimes confused with the Vitis genus of grapes. The small, greenish-white flowers are barely noticeable, blooming from spring throughout summer. The attractive berries soon follow, appearing in autumn, and change in color from lilac to green and then blue.
While Ampelopsis has been grown in the landscape for ornamental purposes in the past, it should only be incorporated into the garden with great caution. The plants in this genus are aggressive growers. Although they’re tolerant of many conditions and resistant to most pests, they spread quickly, invading or shading out other nearby plants. In the wild, porcelain berry can be found growing along the edges of sunny streams, ponds, or woodlands. In the landscape, however, it’s best to locate the plant in heavier shade to slow its growth.
Only the most dedicated of gardeners should attempt growing these plants. Once porcelain berry becomes established, it’s difficult to eradicate. The taproots of Ampelopsis are quite large, which can make it somewhat difficult to fully dig or pull up. Even when cut to the ground, this vigorous grower will resprout readily. It can take several years to fully remove porcelain berry plants from the landscape.
Since the seeds from porcelain berry germinate easily too, it isn’t unusual for new plants to emerge just about anywhere. In fact, the seeds can remain viable for several years, popping up whenever Mother Nature deems necessary. Birds and other wildlife commonly feast on the berries as well. Upon digestion of the berries, the remaining seeds are dispersed through their droppings. From here the seeds germinate, producing additional Ampelopsis plants.
Porcelain berry has an interesting history with regards to its medicinal use, which is mainly in Asian countries where the plants originate. They have reported used for treating external conditions. Along with the fresh berries, Ampelopsis leaves and roots have antibacterial, fever reducing, and purifying properties. Compresses or poultices have been used in the treatment of bruises, boils, burns, and minor skin disorders. A decoction of the plant roots was also used to minimize tumors and alleviate bleeding hemorrhoids.