👣 In summer I always enjoy an early-evening walk on our smallholding. No need to get in my car to find nature, I have 8.5ha right here to explore, hoping to see the Barn Owl or some Guinea fowl, but always enjoying the Bluegum trees and beautiful grasses and wild flowers along the way.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

For the love of English Ivy

The rugged trees are mingling
Their flowery sprays in love;
The ivy climbs the laurel
To clasp the boughs above.
Author: William Cullen Bryant

Hedera helix 'Hibernica', common ivy

I've always loved having Ivy in my garden, there's nothing like Hedera helix to quickly fill an empty spot or cover a fallen-down tree. I had a couple of patches of English Ivy in my previous garden (just 1.6km from where I live now) and, as this species is very invasive and if not kept in check, can take over the whole garden, I do not have any in my current garden.

Hedera helix Ivy climbing up a wall with no support except its own suckers

I had a gorgeous hedera helix climbing up my wall between my two kitchen windows and which was home to a pair of Wagtails. Opposite this was a dead tree totally covered in ivy and which was home to a pair of Robins. The close proximity of these two nests caused endless war between the Robins and the Wagtails, with the robins always coming out tops as the Wagtails are timid and shy birds. I used to hear the noise and screeching as the Robins terrorised the Wagtails from the kitchen, and rushing out to break up the raucous.

The dead tree covered in the ivy eventually toppled under the weight, leaving the Robins homeless, after which they, thankfully, moved to another part of the garden, leaving the Wagtails in peace.

A snippet of Ivy I planted in a pot

It is said that Ivy is the goddess who carries life through the winter. Holly was her god. Ivy was in high esteem among the ancients and its leaves formed the poet's crown. It was dedicated to the Roman god Bacchus, the God of Intoxication who is often depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines. He is also depicted holding a chalice and carrying a wand which was entwined with ivy and vine leaves. Wearing a wreath of ivy leaves around the brow is supposed to prevent intoxication.

Ivy has been regarded as the emblem of fidelity and Greek priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married persons. Women carried ivy to aid fertility and bring good luck. They also carried it to ensure fidelity and from this came the custom of brides carrying ivy.

The custom of decorating houses and churches with ivy at Christmas is sometimes seen as the Christian Church adopting pagan associations.

A sketch of the Ivy shortly after I planted it.

Common names
Common English Ivy

Botanical name
Hedera helix

Poisonous parts

Poisonous component
didehydrofalcarinol, falcarinol, hederasaponins

This vine is grown both as an indoor and outdoor ornamental and it has caused poisoning in cattle, dogs, sheep, and humans. Symptoms of ingestion are difficulty in breathing, convulsions, vomiting, paralysis and coma.

Some Ivy in my previous garden

Dermatitis is rare but can be severe with weeping blisters which respond slowly to treatment. The berries are bitter so it's unlikely children will consume them in large quantities.

Hedera helix originates from Europe and in it's native habitat it is an important food source for a large number of insects and birds. English ivy is very popular as ornamental plant but this ivy is extremely invasive and is considered noxious in parts of the world where it has escaped into the wild. Ivy can become so dense as to exclude other native species creating ivy "deserts", even becoming so heavy as to topple trees - something which does not occur in its native habitat.

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