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An evergreen climber, with a strong, rather acrid odour when crushed, attaching itself to trees, buildings, etc., by means of rootlike growths from the stem, or, where such support is absent, creeping over the ground; young shoots clothed with minute stellate hairs. Leaves alternate, thick, leathery, very dark glossy green, broadly ovate or somewhat triangular, those of the climbing shoots with three or five deep or shallow lobes and stalks of varying length. The starry hairs have five to eight rays. The ivy never flowers on the creeping or climbing shoots, but produces bushy branches, mostly when it has reached the top of its support; these have no aerial roots, and their leaves are never lobed, but are wavy in outline or entire at the margin, and more narrowly ovate. Flowers produced in October, in a terminal cluster of globose umbels, yellowish green. Berries dull inky black, globose, about 1⁄4 in. across, containing two to five seeds.
Native of Europe north as far as southern Scandinavia and east to western Russia, but in the south extending farther to the east through the rainier parts of Anatolia to the Caucasus. It is found almost everywhere in Britain, especially in shady spots, its natural habitat being the forest, where it can climb trees. The ivy, however, is very adaptable, and can be grown in almost any situation. No introduced evergreen climber can rival it for covering old trees, buildings, etc. Many think that serious damage is done to trees by allowing ivy to climb over them, but this only occurs when the ivy has reached the leafy shoots; so long as the ivy is confined to the trunk and larger branches no harm is done. An ivy-laden tree is one of the most beautiful objects of the winter landscape. On houses ivy is rather beneficial than otherwise, keeping them dry and warm.
Ivy is propagated with the greatest ease by means of cuttings which may be given gentle heat if it is desirable to get them to root quickly, or dibbled thickly under handlights or even in the open air. The more delicate highly coloured varieties are sometimes grafted on the common ivy, but need constant watching to prevent the stock over-running the scion. One of the most useful purposes to which ivy can be put is as a ground-covering under trees where no grass will grow. It is also very useful for covering iron-rail fencing, or posts and chains. As regards its use on buildings it is capable of attaining at least 100 ft in height. Leaves of ivy are eaten by horses, cattle, and sheep apparently with relish and without evil results.
There is no work that deals comprehensively with the garden varieties of the common ivy. Hibberd’s book The Ivy (1872), with its elegant descriptions and numerous illustrations, is still of some value as a source of information about the older sorts. Unfortunately, Hibberd took it upon himself to rename many of the garden varieties, on the grounds that the nomenclature, especially of the variegated kinds, was confused, or simply because he disliked the established name. In some cases the name he attempted to abolish is known and can be revived, but often this is not possible. There is no doubt that he could have ascertained the correct name for many of the variegated ivies treated in his work, had he troubled to make the attempt. Nowhere in his book is there any reference to William Paul, one of the greatest plantsmen of his generation, who had a large collection of ivies and indeed may have raised some of the varieties treated by Hibberd.
The garden varieties described below are only a selection of those now available, and are in the main confined to those sold as suitable for growing out-of-doors:
Most modern ivies suitable for pot culture are ‘self-branching’, that is to say the lateral buds grow out at once to form side shoots instead of remaining dormant until their second year, as is the case with normal ‘vining’ ivies unless regularly stopped. Such ivies are slow-growing and never cover much ground when planted in the open, but are useful in certain situations.
The cultivars added below are mostly those more familiar as pot-plants, but received awards after the recent open-ground trials at Wisley. The following described in the main work received Awards of Merit in these trials: ‘Atropurpurea’, ‘Conglomerata’, ‘Glacier’, ‘Green Ripple’, ‘Hibernica’ (Irish ivy), ‘Little Diamond’. Some glaring omissions from the lists of awards, notably ‘Buttercup’ and ‘Gold-heart’, arise from the fact that these and some other coloured-leaved cultivars do not succeed except when grown on walls.
For some purple-leaved cultivars of the common ivy see the article by Peter Rose in The Plantsman, Vol. 1(3), pp. 129-32 (1979).
In Flora of Cyprus, Vol.1, p. 769 (1977), Desmond Meikle remarks that the common ivy as seen on the island has less lobed leaves than in Europe. This may also be the case elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, judging by plants grown from a cutting collected in eastern Crete, in which the leaves are predominantly quite unlobed and cordate at the base, or at most obscurely and bluntly lobed.
† cv. ‘Chrysophylla’. – The H. helix chrysophylla of Hibberd was intended by him as a collective name for a number of ivies, all very alike when grown together in his garden but received under seven different trade names. ‘The leaves are broad, variously lobed, but the lobes are always obtuse and few in number… . The variegation appears in patches on the young growth, many of the leaves being wholly of a deep yellow, others mottled with paler yellow on a green ground, a large proportion of the plant being of a dark green, without any trace of variegation.’ He added that it is inclined to ‘run out’ (revert) on rich soils.
cv. ‘Conglomerata Erecta’. – Peter Rose points out that there are three erect-branched, non-climbing clones. One is ‘Congesta’, the smallest and best of the three, with leaves 11⁄8 to 15⁄8 in. long, their lobes acute at the apex; it is this which was once in the trade as H. helix minima. The second he suggests should be called ‘Erecta’ simply; it is coarser and more vigorous, with larger, bluntly lobed leaves. The third is ‘Russelliana’, sent out by Messrs Russell early this century; it was lost by them during the second world war, but rediscovered recently in a Surrey garden, and is intermediate in size between the first two. All three probably derive from branch-sports of ‘Conglomerata’.
It should be added that the drawing on page 356 of the main work is of ‘Congesta’, and not of ‘Conglomerata’ as stated in the caption.
cv. ‘Goldheart’. – This well-known clone was raised in Italy and originally listed there as ‘Oro di Bogliasco’. ‘Goldheart’ is now the established name.
cv. ‘Gracilis’. – This name has been usurped by other clones, but the true ‘Gracilis’ is probably still in commerce (Peter Rose, op. cit., p. 108).
cv. ‘Hibernica’. – It has been alleged that this is a semi-adult clone of a species distinct from H. helix, ranging from south-west Scotland and Ireland to Portugal. See the article by H. McAllister cited under H. canariensis, p. 107; also the note by Alison Rutherford and Stephen S. Taffler in Int. Dendr. Soc. Year Book 1975, pp. 59-61.
cv. ‘Hibernica Aurea’. – Peter Rose considers that the correct name for this clone is ‘Hibernica Variegata’.
† cv. ‘Ivalace’. – Leaves dark green and glossy, with undulate margins, which are folded upwards at the sinuses and ‘lacy’ in general effect. Raised in the USA. Reasonably hardy and a good plant for low north-facing walls. ‘Manda’s Crested’ is of the same type but perhaps less hardy. Both received a First Class Certificate in the Wisley trials.
† cv. ‘Luzii’. – Leaves obscurely five-lobed, grey green with yellow-green mottling.
cv. ‘Marginata Elegantissima’. – Peter Rose considers that ‘Tricolor’ is different from ‘Marginata Elegantissima’, having a creamy rather than silvery edge, and that the former is the name that should be used for the cultivated plants.
cv. ‘Marmorata Minor’. – This is also known as ‘Minor Marmorata’.
cv. ‘Ovata’. – This is scarcely the same clone as ‘Deltoidea’, as has been suggested. Mr Bean kept the two separate in earlier editions of this work.
cv. ‘Pedata’. – For this, see further the note by Peter Rose in The Plantsman, Vol. 5 (1), pp. 59-60 (1983).
† ‘Parsley Crested’. – Leaves almost unlobed, ovate to roundish, undulate and crimped at the edge, bright green, with lighter veins. Self-branching. It makes a useful ground-cover for small areas. A.M.T. 1980.
† ‘Pin Oak’. – Leaves light green, to about 1 in. long, three-lobed, the central lobe much longer than the laterals, base cuneate. A self-branching ivy, which forms dense mounds when grown in the open. A.M.T. 1980.
† ‘Pittsburgh’. – Best known as a pot-plant, this ivy received the Highly Commended award in the Wisley trials for its performance in the open ground. It is of historical interest as the first of the self-branching ivies, also known as the Ramosa group. There is nothing particularly distinctive about the foliage.
var. poetica – The Poet’s Ivy perhaps deserves a higher rank than variety. Its distribution as a genuinely wild plant is by no means certain, partly owing to the reluctance of botanists to distinguish herbarium specimens from those of the common ivy, in the absence of fruits. It makes an attractive, neat, free-fruiting, evergreen shrub in its ‘tree’ form. For a note on this ivy by Peter Rose, see The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 110, pp. 26-7 (1985).
cv. ‘Sagittifolia’. – It was remarked that the plant now in commerce under this name is not the same as the H. helix sagittaefolia. It is in fact very similar to ‘Koniger’s Auslese’. There is also a silvery-margined form of the falsely named ‘Sagittifolia’, for which ‘Sagittifolia Variegata’ is the established name. This is self-branching and one of the best variegated ivies for walls (P. Rose, op. cit., fig. 60).
† cv. ‘Sulphurea’. – See Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 100, p. 87 and fig. 25 (1975).
H. poetarum Bertol.
H. chrysocarpa Walsh
H. helix var. chrysocarpa Ten.
H. helix subsp. poetarum Nyman Poet's Ivy
H. poetica (?) var. taurica Tobler
H. taurica sensu Poyark