Hedera helix - ivy, common or English ivy


Ivy is one of the earliest plants used ornamentally by mankind. So much ivy pollen has been found in Stone Age graves in England that it has been possible to calculate that the plant was collected to ornament the graves as long as 7600 years ago. Since ancient times the evergreen leaves have symbolised the continuity of life through winter and beyond death, particularly in areas where there are no evergreen conifers. Ivy continues to be a popular garden plant in western Europe.

Ivy is an evergreen climber or ground cover which can fasten onto many kinds of support using its suction roots to climb up tree trunks, for example, to ten metres or so. Its young branches produce 3-5-lobed leaves, whereas the leaves on flowering branches are not lobed, but smooth-edged and oval. Chewing ivy leaves at orgies in honour of Dionysos and Bacchus is said to have been one of its early uses. This was supposed to excite the religious ecstasy of the participants. However, ivy is poisonous so what they achieved was more probably severe stomach pains.

In Finland, ivy is rather frost-tender and, apart from a few exceptions, survives only as ground cover. It is happiest on good soil in protected positions where there is a steady water supply and good winter snow cover. Provenance is important. At Mustila, several supposedly hardy provenances are under test, with varying success. The right site for planting and abundant snow cover have shown themselves to be essential factors for winter survival.


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