Ivy, Hedera helix

Hedera helix, Ivy leaves, flowers and fruit. (Araliaceae). © Karen Andrews

The evergreen nature of Ivy meant that it was used to decorate homes in winter even before Christianity. Many Pagan customs were absorbed by the Christian Church. Ivy was banished from the Church for a time because of its shadier characteristics: its tendency to grow in shade away from the light. It earned a bad reputation for secret desires, debauchery and hidden desires. Over time its clinging nature gained positive associations with faithfulness, friendship and love.

Symbol of Femininity

Ivy is one of the key protagonists in the famous Christmas carol, The Holly and Ivy. Ivy was regarded as a feminine plant in counterbalance to the masculinity of Holly. The lyrics focus more on Holly than Ivy in a way somewhat reminiscent of the historic role of women.

Late Nectar Source

Ivy flowers are easily overlooked. They have a fascinatingly different structure when you look closely. You usually find them in autumn. This year, I first found Ivy flowering in late August. I might have easily missed it but for a sudden flurry of pollinating flies and hoverflies. Ivy provides an excellent late source of nectar when summer flower sources are depleted.

Biodiversity Support

Ivy is often eyed with suspicion for harming trees. It does not harm to its supporting trees. It is not a parasite. It provides a lot of support in turn to wildlife – no fewer than 50 species according to the Woodland Trust.

Eternal Life

Ivy leaves show marked variability. They vary as they age. These evergreen leaves handle some of the toughest winter conditions. I was recently interested to note how Ivy leaves were tinged red after several days of frost (see below). A week later, many leaves had turned brown, but the plant fought back vigorously with fresh, new leaves. No wonder it symbolises eternal life.

Ivy leaves after several frosty nights. © Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and BotanyKaren.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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