Saturday 11 February 2017


Ivy is the elephant in the living room of the countryside: it is always there but almost completely ignored.  It is not beautiful or photogenic; it is not exotic; it does not have brilliant flowers, and, its black berries are all but invisible.  Yet, it is a major factor in the appearence and atmosphere of Milton Country Park.

Close up of ivy leaves
Ivy Leaves - 22 March 2016

In parts of the park, ivy not only festoons the the trunk of every tree with a thick, shaggy green coat, it also carpets the ground beneath. Together with long tendrils hanging down from the branches, these areas take on the atmosphere of a lush forest.  

A clump of trees every one with heavy ivy load.
Ivied Trees - 29 January 2017
The thick ivy tresses on the trunks, fill the space between the trees
making a wall of green.

Ivy and Wildlife

But is ivy a friend or a foe?  Contrary to what some may think, ivy does not kill trees.  It is not a parasite, and uses the trees purely for support; it derives all its nutrients from its roots.  It is easy to believe that ivy is the culprit, when you see a dying tree, its crown completely infested with the plant.  However, the host had to be moribund before the ivy could grow that much, as a healthy tree canopy can provide more than enough shade to deny the ivy the light it needs for photosynthesis and growth.  

Ivy tendrils hanging down from overhead branches
Ivy Tendrils - 18 September 2016
Tendrils hanging down give a tropical forest feel to the woods

Ivy is undoubtedly of great value for wildlife.  Its dense foliage provides a place where birds can nest, bats can hide, and insects hibernate. Its leaves are eaten by a number of insects, including the angle shades moth.  Ivy flowers are an important source of nectar at a time of year when there are few other sources.  Its berries provide food for a number of birds including blackbirds, thrushes and black caps. This winter, the berries have been disappearing as soon as they are ripe.

Ivy leaves all small many red growing on the ground
Ivy Covered Bank - 6 February 2017
Ivy provides a thick ground cover, with leaves turning a rich red during autumn


Ivy is rich in folk lore and mythology. Its main claim to fame is its eponymous reference in the carol 'The Holly and the Ivy'; although ivy is not mentioned at all after the first line.  The holly in this carol represents Christ, the reference to ivy is probably a hangover from earlier traditions which linked the two plants.  In fact, during the fifthteenth and sixteenth century there were a number of holly and ivy carols.

Tree trunk completely covered with thick ivy tendrils
Ivy Tendrils - 24 February 2015
It is difficult to believe that ivy is harmless, when the whole trunk of a tree is smothered in its tendrils

In these early traditions, holly represents the male and ivy the female.  Ivy would be brought into the house at Christmas as a symbol of fertility.  It was thought to be bring good luck to women; and if grown on the walls of the house protect its inhabitants against witch craft.  Drinking ivy vinegar was said to protect against the plague.

Ivy flowers wreathed around tree trunk
Ivy Flowers - 15 October 2016
Note the lanceolate shaped leaves on the flowering branches

Ivy was sacred to Bacchus, the god of wine and orgies, who wore a crown of ivy, which gave him immortality.  To the Romans, ivy was also a symbol of intellect, and winners of poetry competitions were awarded a wreath of ivy.  

A bunch of ripe ivy berries
Ivy Berries - 3 February 2017
Rich food source for birds
 the berries start disappearing from the bushes as soon as they are ripe


Further Reading

Ivy - Friend or Foe? 
The Importance of Ivy to Insects  

English Ivy Symbolism, Traditions and Mythology
Folklore in My Garden - Ivy
Ivy - Hedera helix

Next: A Foggy Day

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