Ivy is a brilliant plant for wildlife

Hedera helix  06/10/2011  Ayton'Ivy in flower
Hedera helix 06/10/2011 Ayton'Ivy in flower

Ivy is a very familiar native plant which climbs over walls and trees or scrambles over the ground and it is very good for our wildlife.

It is very vigorous and where it is unwanted it can be a bit of a nuisance as it is difficult to remove from walls and trees.

If you just cut it off at the base to kill it, the dead leaves remain on the offending stems for a long time and look very unsightly.

Ivy is a great plant for wildlife. Its flowers are rich in nectar and are a good source of food for many insects, especially as they flower very late in the autumn and early winter when there are few other plants in flower.

A warm wall with flowering ivy in November can be just humming with hover flies, butterflies, wasps and other insects, stocking up with food before going into hibernation for the winter.

These insects then provide rich pickings for insect eating birds.

The stems which stick to the walls and trees provide ideal sheltered roosting sites for small birds at night and are great places for concealing nests from magpies, crows and other predators in spring.

The fleshy fruits which ripen in late winter and early spring are a favourite food for wood pigeons, thrushes, blackcaps and other berry eating birds especially as they ripen at a time when most other fruits have long since been devoured.

The ivy is a natural climber and can reach 30m tall on large trees and buildings. There are two types of leaves, palmately lobed juvenile leaves, the shape most often though of as ivy shaped, are found on the running stems on the ground and on the stems which creep and hug the trunks of trees and buildings.

Once they reach the desired height or the crown of a tree and are exposed to the sunlight, they then send out strong, thick, self supporting branches which stick out at a right angle and have simple unlobed leaves.

They are the fertile shoots which produce the flowers and fruit.

When a stem climbs a wall or tree trunk it holds on tight with small ariel roots which are so strong it is difficult to remove the offending shoots.

Individual flowers are quite small, many are held together in a round headed umbel and are yellowish green in colour. I am sure the insects are attracted to them by scent rather than by a colourful display.

The fruit when ripe is a purple-black berry and the seeds can be widely dispersed after passing through a bird.

There are about 15 wild species of Ivy and they are found across Europe, North Africa and Asia as far as Japan.

Most of them look fairly similar to our native species Hedera helix.