Ivy (Hedera helix) is a dominate species within our countryside and can be found growing in hedgerows, woodland, scrub and on walls and trees. There are two native subspecies of ivy in the UK, these are: Hedera helix ssp. helix and Hedera helix ssp. hibernica. Hibernica does not climb but spreads across the ground.

Ivy can grow up to 30m in height; on juvenile climbing stems specialised hairs help the plant attach to surfaces as it climbs. Mature ivy on the other hand is mostly self-supporting.   

The plant is evergreen with dark green, glossy leaves and pale veins. The juvenile leaves have 3-5 lobes and are paler on the underside. Mature leaves tend to be oval or heart shaped without lobes.

Only the mature ivy produces flowers, which are yellowy green in colour. The flowers are arranged in a dome-shaped cluster known as an umbel. Flowers emerge from September through to November, with black berry-like fruits developing in November to January.

Due to its late flowering, the ivy provides one of the latest sources of pollen, nectar and berries for insects and birds when little else is available in the autumn and winter. Due to the high fat content of the berries, this provides a nutritious food resource for thrushes, blackcaps and blackbirds. Being evergreen, the plant provides vital shelter for insects during the autumn and winter months, in total the plant can support at least 50 different species of wildlife throughout the year.

Ivy is commonly associated with Christmas, along with its counterpart Holly (lookout for December’s Hedgerow Species). As evergreen species, both plants were used to ‘ward off evil spirits’, with sprigs being picked and brought inside to keep house goblins at bay.

It has also been a tradition to place a sprig of ivy within a bride’s bouquet, as it is thought that ivy symbolises fidelity, loyalty and support within a marriage.

Illustration by Joanna Uglow