The Holly & The Ivy: Part Two - Ivy

© Philip Precey

Ivy has had a long-standing association with winter celebrations throughout history, like holly, a splash of evergreen colour in a landscape that may appear otherwise lifeless.

One not so festive belief is that ivy is a parasite responsible for strangling the life from trees and tearing apart the fabric of buildings and walls. However, when a tree appears to be being taken over by ivy is often a symptom of something else happening within the tree, such as disease or rot. Where this happens, the ivy takes advantage of the situation, increasing its own canopy. Likewise, if the masonry is already weathered or soft through lack of maintenance, ivy can speed the deterioration of walls and can become to heavy for some wooden fences to support.

Ivy isn’t a parasite either, only using its host for support. The fine aerial roots, which people often assume are taking nutrients from trees, are actually anchors and only penetrate the bark. If you need to control ivy in your garden, it is advised that you don’t do it in the spring as it will impact on nesting birds.

Ivy is in fact a wonderful plant for wildlife. At the beginning of spring it provides a vital source of early nectar for emerging insects, before going on to give nesting cover for birds. As we head into winter, the flowers – which appear from September onwards – again support insects such as queen wasps (although we love to hate wasps, they are an important part of the food chain and vital pollinators), whilst overwintering butterflies such as comma, brimstone, painted lady and small tortoiseshell take refuge in its dense foliage.

The berries appear from November onwards and also provide an important food source for birds such as redwings, robins, blackcaps, collared doves and many more during the lean winter months.  Ivy also provides roosting sites for bats.

So as you can see there are many more reasons to celebrate ivy this Christmas, and all year round as well!