The cold weather persists, so I feel there is still time to enjoy the ivy, which stays luxuriant and green throughout the snowiest of winters but is so often forgotten when nature is in full, colourful bloom in the warmer months.
There is wild native ivy on the trees in the wooded part of my garden, and several “cultivated” ivies in the tamer part, planted by myself over the years but I foolishly didn’t make a note of the cultivar names.
I also see plenty of ivy while walking along suburban streets or waiting at bus stops beside stone walls.
I had hoped to share with you EVERYTHING there is to know about ivy, but I have found it is far more complicated than I had expected. The excellent American Ivy Society uses the Pierot system to classify ivies by their leaf shapes (and there are more than you would think), but more of that later.
Generally, ivies have veined, evergreen leaves that alternate on long stems that happily dangle down, creep sideways or climb up, if given support, always in search of sunlight.
The basic Hedera helix (English ivy) has two leaf types, with palmate (hand-shaped) lobed young leaves on the spreading stems and then cordate (heart-shaped – although they look like diamonds to me) adult leaves on the mature flowering stems when they reach the sunshine. The young shoots are thinner and have aerial roots to cling to rocks or trees, while the adult stems are thicker and stand up without any aerial roots.
The flowers aren’t anything flashy, yellow-green with five little petals, although insects appreciate the nectar. Then the fruit comes along, usually black, in late winter or spring. Birds eat the berries, especially in hard winters when there is not much else around.
Most ivy plants are in the species H helix, which has around 400 named cultivars. But one or two other ivy species can also be found in our gardens…
Hedera hibernica is also known as Irish ivy or Atlantic ivy. It is not that different from H helix although may be a bit paler. Some classifiers count it as a subspecies, H helix hibernica.
Hedera canariensis is Canary ivy or Algerian ivy. As far as I can tell, the most notable thing about it is the dark red stems. But apparently the leaves also bronze in autumn.
There is also a variety of H canariensis called “Variegata”, or more beautifully “Gloire de Marengo”…
Hedera colchica is Persian ivy and it has heart-shaped dark green leaves which look a bit droopy to me. One of the most popular garden varieties is variegated with yellow – it’s called “Sulphur Heart”.
So forgetting most of these little sidelines, let’s get back to the excellent American Ivy Society and its classification of garden ivies.
Apart from the leaf shape, the ivies are also classified by size – there are miniatures, which have leaves under an inch across (but perhaps it would be useful to have small, medium and large as well).
The AIS also has a classification “variegated” (although to me you could helpfully add white variegated and yellow variegated).
Then it’s all about leaf shape:
Ivy-types have “classical” leaves that are flat and have five pointed lobes.
Most ivies seem to have variations, as seen here…
Then there are heart-shape types, which may have triangular or three-lobed leaves.
Fan types have wide, fan-like leaves with many pointed lobes of equal length.
Bird’s foot types have narrow lobes or willow-like leaves without lobes.
Ivies classified as curly have ruffled, rippled, or pleated leaves…
There is so much variety in the world of ivies, but just one more thing before you go. There is also a rather nice house plant called Fatshedera lizei…
It’s also available in variegated form, but I found it a little annoying as a house plant as the stems have a tendency to grow straight up and not branch out. This is not surprising as one of its parents is Hedera helix. The other is another member of the Aralioideae subfamily, Fatsia japonica, or the (false) castor-oil plant.
One look at the Fatsia’s black fruits and you can see the relationship…
Shiny and forever green.
That’s all, folks…