All about Ivy Leaf (Hedera Helix) – History, Meaning, Facts, Care & More

Hedera helix or commonly called the Ivy or English Ivy, lovestone and bindwood, is a species of flowering plants that belong to the Araliaceae family. The plant is native to most of the European countries and western Asia. It is a clinging evergreen vine and a climbing plant that uses aerial rootlets, having matted pads that help them to cling to a suitable surface (like walls, cliffs, and trees) actively. The Ivy can also grow as a groundcover at places where there are no vertical surfaces.

Facts about Ivy (Hedera helix)

The Ivy is a familiar sight on tree trunks, walls, in gardens, in wild areas, or even in waste spaces. Let’s see what the facts about European Ivies say –

 

  • The flowers of Ivy plants are attractive enough to be visited by more than 70 different kinds of species, especially the nectar-feeding bees and insects. The berries of this plant are eaten by about 16 different species of birds.
  • The plant can grow up to 100 feet either upward as a climbing vine or outward as a groundcover. In the case of the latter, the plant can reach heights of about 6-8 inches.
  • The Ivy is a perennial, evergreen, woody vine that grows best in soil that is rich in organic material, having exposure to either partial or filtered sunlight.
  • Even though the Ivy is considered as a weed of the parks, natural ecosystems, landscapes, and other spaces, it is still marketed for its dense evergreen foliage.
  • The leaves of an Ivy plant can cause allergic skin reactions upon touch.

 

History of Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy was used for holiday decorations, especially Christmas, since the Ancient Roman times. The plant was associated initially with Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture, revelry and good times.

 

The English Ivy was first introduced by the European colonists in 1727. To the Ancient Greeks, the Hedera helix is an emblem of the muse of comedy, Thalia. Moreover, the Dionysian priestesses, during sacrificial rites, were known to carry staves that were entwined with Ivy.

 

In ancient times, the leaves and berries of the Ivy plant were consumed orally to treat bronchitis and cough. In the year 1597, John Gerard, the British herbalist, recommended to infuse ivy leaves with water and to use it as a wash for watering or sore eyes.

Characteristic of Ivy (Hedera helix)

This evergreen climbing plant prefers darker and rough surfaces, which are also typically non-reflective with near-neutral pH levels. It grows best in moist soils having around 6.5 pH levels. Moreover, these species avoid places that are exposed to direct sunlight and, therefore, are mostly found in shady locations.

 

  • Leaves: Ivies have alternate leaves, each about 50-100 mm long, having a petiole of 15-20 mm long.
  • Flowers: The species produces flowers starting from the late summer months to the late autumn. The blooms are relatively small, with umbels having diameters of about 3-5 cm. The flowers are greenish-yellow in color and are quite abundant in nectar. They are a significant source of food for many insects and bees during the late fall season.
  • Fruit: The fruits of Ivy plants vary from orange-yellow to purple-black berries, each having a diameter of 6-8 mm. The fruits ripen up in the late winter months and are a major food for various birds. However, some fruits are poisonous for humans.
  • Seeds: Each of the berries carries 1-5 seeds, which are dispersed once the birds eat them.

 

Use of Ivy (Hedera helix)

The European Ivy is mainly cultivated as an ornamental plant, and within its native range, the plant is mostly valued for its ability to attract wildlife.

 

  • The dense foliage of the Ivy provides excellent shelter for animals and also serves as a food for deer.
  • In some parts of Europe, the Ivy is planted to cover up the walls. The European government also recommends growing this species on buildings, as it has cooling properties, enough to keep the interiors cooler than the outside during summer.
  • Ivy plants also provide excellent insulation during the winter, while also protecting the building from temperature fluctuations, soil moisture, and direct exposure to rough weather.
  • Besides, Ivies are also used to suppress weeds in plantings and provide additional greenery when grown on tree trunks. This ornamental plant also beautifies dull or unsightly places.
  • Ivy extracts are recently used as an active ingredient of some cough medicines.
  • Herbalists use Ivies to treat certain respiratory conditions, like bronchitis, asthma, inflammation, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and arthritis.
  • It is also kept as an elegant green covering for brick or stone-walled homes or fences, or used as an ornamental ground cover. You can also keep an Ivy as a beautiful houseplant, such as in hanging baskets.

 

Ivy (Hedera helix) Flower Meaning

While Hedera is a generic name for Ivy plants, the epithet helix is derived from the Ancient Greek term for ‘twist’ or ‘turn.’ It is also believed to have originated from the Latin word ‘helicem,’ meaning ‘spiral-shaped,’ and was first used around the year 1600.

 

In some cultures, the plant has been considered as a superstition, which was believed to keep witches away. In general, however, Ivy, being an evergreen plant, symbolizes fidelity, eternity, and strong affection, such as weddings and friendship. Also, since the species is durable and hardy enough to withstand the roughest of environmental conditions, it is often regarded as a symbol of immortality.

How to Care For Ivy (Hedera helix)

To ensure the growth of a healthy Ivy plant, make sure to follow these steps –

 

  • Place the Ivy in bright sunlight, since lower light conditions might cause the leaves to turn pale or result in stunted growth. However, avoid direct and intense light conditions.
  • Make sure to keep the plant in an average room temperature of 75° Fahrenheit in the day and 65° Fahrenheit during the night.
  • Water your plant whenever you feel that the top one and a half-inch of the potting mixture is dry to touch. Ensure deep watering until you see water droplets trickling out from the drainage hole. Allow the soil to drain off thoroughly and never let the pot stand in water.
  • Spray the plant with water lightly, once or twice per week during the dry weather conditions. This is because a dry and dusty environment might attract insects and spider mites. A slight watering would remove the dust, thus keeping the plant hydrated.
  • Ivy does well in average humidity. So if the air in your room feels dry, place your plant container on a humidity tray.
  • Fertilize your Ivy each month, both during the summer and the springtime. Use a general-purpose fertilizer if your plant is kept indoors. Withhold using them during the cold and dry wintry climatic conditions that are during the fall and winter months, or if your plant shows slower growth during hot weather situations.
  • You can prune your plant lightly as and when required, to keep it clean and tidy. Pruning would keep the shape and size of your plant intact.