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Hedera helix

Ivy Family [Araliaceae]  

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14th April 2008, Duckington, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD

25th Sept 2008, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Smothering a drystone wall.

20th Sept 2016, Leeds & L/pool canal, Burscough Bridge, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Young leaves (without teeth) and the flowers.

22nd Aug 2007, Llanfairfechan, North Wales. Photo: © RWD

15th Dec 2008, Talkinhead, Lancs. Photo: © Jeremy Roberts
The lower dome is in flower, with green flowers, the top-most one in the early stages of fruit.

25th Sept 2008, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Topmost dome has only just started turning to fruit, the others the 5 petals have yet to un-furl.

22nd Aug 2007, Llanfairfechan, North Wales. Photo: © RWD
Petals not yet unfurled on these flowers.

20th Sept 2016, Leeds & L/pool canal, Burscough Bridge, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Insect just love the nectar.

20th Sept 2016, Leeds & L/pool canal, Burscough Bridge, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
In the centre of the flower-globe are flowers yet to open. Two more insects enjoying the nectar.

25th Sept 2008, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Five pale-green petals now un-furled revealing 5 anthers on each flower and a short single central style. The flowers appear in Autumn; the fruits the next spring.

19th Sept 2017, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Two flowering globes each on their separate stems (there is another behind). Flowers in a 'globe' formation on longish stalks, each emanating from a point, this being a simple umbel. The 5 petal of the three flowers in the centre have yet to part to reveal the stamens and style within.

19th Sept 2017, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The 5 paler-green petals are actually petals, not sepals. The flower sits in a cup-shaped sepal (which actually does have 5 very short teeth between the petals). The cup is shaped like a golf-tee, tapering seamlessly and gradually into the flower stalk, just like a golf-tea does.

13th sept 2018, Carr Mill Dam, St Helens, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers with 5 green petals which are initially radial but then curl underneath, 5 cream-coloured anthers and a short paler-green style in the centre.

16th Sept 2009, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The 5 petals are fairly robust for their size. At first they open outwards, it seems, and then fold under (unless, of course, this specimen is of a different species of Hedera?? - it is quite possible, there are two other species and many cultivars - and this is a different specimen to the others from Silverdale taken on the 25th Sept 2008). The stamens with yellow/green turning brown anthers at their tips protrude outward and upwards. Ovary green/yellow at first with short style in centre.

19th Sept 2017, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
An as-yet unopened flower. Just like the leaves, it is covered in stellate hairs with perhaps up to 8(?) 'spokes'. The sepal cup tapers gradually into the stalk. The shape is reminiscent of a microphone with a foam covering or an ice-cream cornet.

19th Sept 2017, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Overhead view of flower with a short central style and 5 stamens. The petals are reflexed backwards.

19th Sept 2017, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
More stellate hairs on the ovary and style.

19th Sept 2017, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
A filament with an opened creamy-yellow anther atop. The filaments lack hairs.

2nd Jan 2016, Knott Mill, Castlefields, M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Recently developed fruits, remains of style still in centre.

19th March 2009, Appley Bridge, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Fruit green at first turning yellow to red then purple before finally finishing black when ripe.

25th March 2015, Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Adlington, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Turning purplish-black.

19th March 2009, Appley Bridge, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
And ending up black.

22nd Aug 2007, Llanfairfechan, North Wales. Photo: © RWD
New leaves Ace-of-Spades shaped.

Photo: © RWD
Older leaves darker green and 5-lobed.

Photo: © RWD
Pale veins.

2nd Jan 2016, Knott Mill, Castlefields, M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Numerous short roots are presented on climbing stems. These have yet to find a substrate on which to take hold.

2nd Jan 2016, Knott Mill, Castlefields, M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Short roots awaiting an opportunity to take root providing the growing stem reaches a suitable surface on which to take purchase.

2nd Jan 2016, Knott Mill, Castlefields, M/cr. Photo: © RWD
These are adventitious roots awaiting a substrate, which could be the trunk of a tree, a garden fence or anything on which it can attach. These roots thenselves don't penetrate the substrate, but grow tiny hairs along their length just 20µm to 400µm long which are able to penetrate most surfaces, even brick! But these tiny hairs have another trick up their sleeves: they secrete glue-like pectic polysaccharide and arabinogalactan nanoparticles which solidify with the help of calcium ions, cross-linking the polymer matrix into a hard adhesive. The hairs dry out, shrink, and pull the plant closer-in locking the solidified polymerised glue in place. It's a pity the photograph does not resolve the hairs on the adventitious roots. Just wait until your Author sees these again...

Not to be confused with: Poison Ivy, a non-native climber/small shrub which is highly toxic (and which does not, as far as your Author is aware, grow in the UK). It can cause severe and damaging blisters when touched.

Lookee-Likees : several other Ivies, most of which are non-native and escaped from gardens.

No relation to : Ivy Broomrape, Ground-Ivy, Ivy-Leaved Toadflax, Ivy-Leaved Crowfoot or Ivy-Leaved Bellflower [plants with similar names]

The sap of Ivy, if it comes into contact with the skin, can cause dermatitis, sometimes with severe blistering and inflammation.

The flowers of Ivy make a useful contribution with providing out-of-season nectar to butterflies in late autumn. This is especially important in really wet and cool years when flowers are not in great abundance, such as the record-breaking wet year of 2012 (which was drought-ridden until April, then it almost never stopped raining, flooding huge areas time and time again, month by month).

Although it has 'roots' which readily attach themselves to substrates such as fences and trees, the 'roots' do not draw sustenance from the tree it climbs: it is not parasitic. And, contrary to common thinking, it will not strangle trees and prevent them from growing; far from it, it avoids going anywhere near the smaller branches where the leaves of the tree harvest sunlight.

Mistletoe contains several different poisonous Viscotoxins plus a ribosome-inactivating Lectin called Viscumin as well al the alkaloid Tyramine. It is rarely lethalto adults and many animals are unaffected by the toxins when eating its fruit.


Falcarinols are naturally occurring acetylenic alcohols (note the two highly energetic triple bonds, extremely unusual in the natural world) present in (English) Ivy. They are strongly fungicidal, a natural defence from invading organisms. In their fungicidal role, they often function as phytoalexins, the mammalian equivalent being anti-bodies. In Ivy, they are both allergenic and irritant to humans. Another polyacetylene (aka polyyne) is also present: 11-dehydrofalcarinol. Falcarinol (aka Panaxynol) is present in Ivy and in Hemlock Water-Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) and causes contact dermatitis in certain individuals when the plants are handled.

Falcarinols also occur in the roots of carrots, their concentration increasing with prolonged storage. In carrots they can cause allergenic contact dermatitis, an occupational hazard for carrot pickers. Because of the highly reactive triple-bonds, polyacetylenes such as these are very toxic.

The flowers of Ground-Elder contain the highest concentration of falcarindiol, up to 9% by weight. Falcarindiol has been shown to possess anti-cancer activity. Some other umbellifers also contain compounds containing triple-bonded carbon atoms.

These polyacetylenes, or more correctly, polyynes, are responsible for the contact dermatitis that may result from touching and handling Ivy, or any other plant containing them, such as the roots of Water Hemlock (Oenanthe crocata)


Hederagenin is a saponin and pre-cursor to many of the compounds present in Ivy, some of which are shown below. It is not a main component of Ivy. Bayogenin is almost identical except that an extra 'OH' is added on the carbon atom just above the left-most 'HO-' group.


Ivy also contains a number of hederasaponins, which, by partial hydrolysis and loss of sugars, leads to α-hederin, β-hederin and hederacolchiside A1, which are being investigated for their possible use in treating lung cancer and leishmaniosis, the latter of which is caused by a water-borne parasite which lives in tropical areas.

Holly Blue (summer brood only)

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Hedera helix

Ivy Family [Araliaceae]  

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