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Ivy (Hedera Helix)

The well-known Ivy is a dense leaved evergreen climber. In its climbing stage, it has three- to five- lobed glossy leaves and when it reaches the tree canopy it produces shrubby growth and bears yellow/green flowers in September to November which are followed by black berries. Unlike mistletoe it is not parasitic and some trees can tolerate it.

It is very valuable for wild life; it’s dense growth lessening the effect of frost on hibernating species and also enabling birds and woodland creatures to forage in the leaf litter below during cold spells. On trees, it provides roosting and nesting places for birds and may help to support up to fifty species of wild life. Pollinating insects such as wasps, hornets and bumble bees can rely on a good source of nectar well into autumn.

Herdsmen know it as a useful treatment and I have used it successfully as a tonic for sheep. This benefit is recognised in the lines from a 1943 song :

Mares eat oats and

Does eat oats and

Little Lambs eat ivy

Contrary to popular belief, it can protect buildings. The Oxford Project research shows that ivy keeps walls 15% warmer in winter than uncovered areas and 36% cooler in summer.

NASA research found that it removes toxins from the air and can reduce mould in the home.

Because the ivy is evergreen it has long been associated with the eternal cycle of life and it is a symbol of love and fidelity based on its clinging growth. Look out for examples in the cemetery where ivy has been carved into the headstones. The old Victorian music hall song includes the line “ Just like the Ivy I’ll cling to you still” ! It was given to newlyweds and is still sometimes included in bridal bouquets today.

Way back in Roman times, Bacchus, the god of wine, was depicted wearing a wreath of grapevine and ivy- the latter supposedly prevented drunkenness ! The Romans also used it to crown winners of poetry contests and the Greeks crowned their winning athletes with it.

Although it has been used medicinally from Hippocrates onward, we need to remember that both the leaves and berries are toxic to humans and that they are also harmful to cats and dogs and should not be allowed to encroach on fish ponds.

Author: Joan Stacey


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