Species: Common Ivy (Hedera helix)

Family: Ivies (ARALIACEAE)

Category: Flowering Plants

Location: NW

A. Flowering Plants

More extensive information on flowering plants can be found in a separate blog post.


The one member of this family native to the UK is the familiar common ivy, but it has many members in southeast Asia, where it is known as the ginseng family.

C. Common Ivy (Hedera helix)

This native evergreen woody climber provides vital nesting and foraging for small birds, egg-laying sites for lepidopterans and food for their caterpillars, and an essential food source for insects in Autumn and Winter. The umbels of flowers, green with yellow anthers, appear in September, followed by black berries. It is not a parasitic plant, so does not normally damage the trees it climbs up.

Infusions are soporific and aid digestion and improve the appetite. They also ease an inflamed bladder. Boiled ivy leaves are a treatment for corns, and ivy ointment soothes burns. If ivy leaves are chopped and steeped in water, and then filtered, the solution may be brushed on a suit to clean the cloth, especially the collar and cuffs. Market stallholders selling suits used to smarten up their appearance by brushing them with this solution. Boiled ivy berries are edible, and were eaten by starving Channel Islanders during the second World War. In folklore, in contrast to the masculine symbolism of the holly, ivy has feminine symbolism, hence the twining of these two plants in wreaths, to symbolise harmony. Ivy is also symbolic of fertility, and ivy garlands were given to newly married couples in the hope that a child would soon arrive as a consequence.


Common Ivy

Common Ivy and Atlantic Ivy may be found together. In this photograph, the paler Ivy is our native Common Ivy with its pointed leaves. The darker Atlantic Ivy has broad leaves with short terminal lobes.

Common Ivy

The umbels of flowers, green with yellow anthers, appear in September, followed by black berries. Each flower is tipped with pale yellow pollen, and is therefore of great value to pollinators in early autumn.

Common Ivy

Common Ivy produces a mass of flowers in early autumn. Approach a display like the one shown here and you will be sure to see a variety of pollinating insects busily at work.

Common Ivy

The provision of nectar and pollen late in the year provides a rich food source for a variety of pollinating insects.

In this photograph, a Red Admiral butterfly and a Hornet Mimic hoverfly feed from the plant in early October.

Common Ivy

In this photograph, from late September, an Ivy Bee is taking advantage of this late season provision of food resources.