Common Name: Ivy
Scientific Name: Hedera helix
Alternative Names: English Ivy, Bindwood, Lovestone
Range: Throughout British Isles
Habitat: Woodland, gardens, waste spaces, on cliffs, walls and tree trunks
Key Identification Features: Evergreen climber growing up to 30m, with alternate dark green, glossy leaves, palmate and angular on climbing stems and cordate on the flowering stems. It flowers in September and October producing dense spherical umbels of small yellowish-green flowers with five short, broad petals. The clusters of pea sized berries are green initially, turning purple/black as they ripen in late winter and early spring.
It climbs by means of aerial rootlets with matted pads which cling strongly to the surface it is climbing on, these rootlets appear as hair like projections.
Confusion Species: Unlikely to be confused with any other species. Lots of cultivated forms exist with very variable leaf colour and structure.
Edible Uses: None known. The berries are toxic in large quantities and certainly not regarded as edible.
Medicinal Uses: Contains triterpenoid saponins and flavonoids. Although not widely used, Ivy is reported to have anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, antioxidant, antiviral, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and antitumor properties. It has been used to remove toxins from the body, tighten and strengthen blood vessels, reduce allergies, improve gut absorption and fight against bacteria. The leaves either fresh or dried and used in a tea are used. The leaves and berries have been taken as an expectorant and an infusion of the leaves as a wash for sore eyes.
Other Uses: The dead, seasoned wood from thick stems makes good friction fire lighting material and can be used for both the drill and the hearth in a fire bow set.
The long thin shoots can be used for weaving baskets, but are best boiled first to maintain flexibility.
The flowers produce a lot of nectar and attract over 70 species of insect to them in autumn including bees, wasps, hornets and hoverflies. The berries provide an important source of food for birds in late winter and early spring.
Ivy is often used at weddings and it’s link to fidelity stems back to ancient Greece. The plant was widely used in pagan times in association with the winter solstice being linked to celtic godessess. The prickly Holly symbolised male and the ivy female so the two were used together and in this way it is still used to decorate homes and make wreaths at Christmas.
Maybe, Richard. Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996)
Rose, Francis. The Wild Flower Key (Frederick Warne, 1981)