Ivy provides shelter and food for many species of invertebrates, birds and small mammals, so its autumn flowers are a welcome sight. Look out for it climbing up trees or carpeting woodland floors.
Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Hedera helix

Other common names: English Ivy, European Ivy

Cornish name: Idhyowen

Ivy can get a bad press, being considered potentially harmful to trees or guilty of crowding out other species. An already weakened or young tree may well be brought down by a weight of ivy, and it is also true that in the sometimes stormy weather conditions of the West Country, a strong tree heavily laden with ivy may very occasionally fall in a gale. However, a healthy, strong tree can most of the time happily host this evergreen, clinging climber and, far from being a ‘bad thing’ for other species (ivy is native, non-parasitic and non-invasive in the UK), ivy provides shelter and food for a wide variety of invertebrates, small mammals and birds.

The dark-green, glossy-leaved ivy plant climbs using aerial fibrous rootlets. It blooms in the autumn, from September to November, making the umbels of nectar-rich flowers a late-season food source for honeybees, moths, hornets, butterflies such as Red Admirals, and many other insects. The dark berries ripen later in the winter, providing food for birds such as blackbirds and thrushes. Bats and birds can roost in its dense cover, and many insects use it for hibernation and overwintering, such as the Brimstone butterfly. Carefully managed to prevent over-extensive growth, it can therefore also be a welcome addition to wildlife gardens. 

Did you know…?

…Hangover cure? In classical times, it was believed that ivy berries could counteract the effects of alcohol. This isn’t true, of course!

…Bakers take note: thicker stems of ivy were once used to make rolling pins.

…Although non-invasive in the UK, ivy can become invasive where it has been introduced elsewhere, such as in parts of the USA and New Zealand.

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Published: November 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend