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Ivy

Scientific Name: Hedera helix
Other name: English Ivy
Family: Araliaceae

An evergreen woody climber in the Gensing Family, which scrambles over shady ground or clings to walls and trees by roots which can arise at any point on the branches. These roots are for holding on and not for feeding so they do not cause damage to healthy trees. If the pointing in stonework is poor the branches can penetrate it and weaken the structure; some old walls would collapse but for the ivy holding them together. Gutters can be blocked and roof tiles disturbed if the ivy is allowed to reach them, so it should be trimmed back by at least 30cm.
Extracts made from the wood are used as a medicinal herb to ease the coughing spasms in bronchitis. It is also applied externally to reduce cellulite, but the most commonly reported use in folk medicine is a poultice of the leaves which have been soaked in vinegar to soften them, applied to corns; the corn should fall away painlessly after a few days. Preparations of the leaves are used to treat itching, burns, warts and scabies.

The leaves on the young stems are shiny, dark green with a lobed shape. As the branches mature they become arborial and produce flowering stems with leaves that are oval and pointed.
The small yellow flowers appear from September to November as spherical clusters. They are an important source of nectar and pollen for bees at this time of year and are also pollinated by wasps and flies. There is a species known as the Ivy Bee which lives only on Ivy pollen. They emerge from underground nests in the autumn. After mating the males die and the queen lays its eggs underground where the larvae hatch and feed on stored pollen as they deveolop for the next eleven months.
Round, purplish-black berries containing a single seed ripen in the winter and are toxic. Birds take the berries and excrete the pink seed where they perch, or they can be found in the droppings of ground feeding birds such as a Blackbird or a Thrush, deposited as they forage for grubs and snails.

Seedlings should be uprooted before they can take hold. Any developing plants should be removed from hedges as they will eventually become dominant, the hedging plants will die and collapse. Normally the ivy grows near to the main trunk of shrubs and trees so it does not compete for light, but with a hedge the growth which would naturally be beyond the ivy is removed, so the ivy becomes dominant. On badly affected hedges prune out the Ivy to allow the hedging plants to recover or plant some new ones to fill large gaps.
Where the Ivy has covered the ground with a dense network of stems, use a mattock to scrape it off, or chop it with an axe or sharp spade. If mature branches are taken from a wall the roots remain and can be mostly removed with a paint scraper. On a very old wall the Ivy may be holding it up, so care should be exercised.

A systemic herbicide will kill it, eg. Gylphosate, but the glossy leaves are hard to penetrate. Another would be a selective one for brush wood. If the stump cannot be removed it can be treated with a special stump-killer.


image of ivy, hedera helix

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