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Ivy - in a league of its own

Ivy is a plant that is often overlooked, except around midwinter when it may be brought into the home with its fellow native evergreen, holly, and sung about in carols! It is tolerant of shade and survives in all but the most dry, waterlogged or acidic soils so it grows well throughout the UK and can be found in all sorts of places from woodlands, to scrubland, to gardens. Because it tends to climb up trees and walls as it reaches up to reach more sunlight, it has got a bit of a bad reputation as a killer of trees and a damager of buildings. But ivy doesn't kill trees; it is not a parasite but an epiphyte, i.e. it just uses the tree for support and derives all its water and nutrients through its own root system. Although its habit of using every crack or crevice as a foothold, it may cause damage to some buildings, but, research carried out by English Heritage has shown that in some cases, ivy can help preserve stonework on old buildings.

Ivy flowers between September and November and has berries from November to February and so it is incredibly important for wildlife; providing nectar, pollen and berries when there is little else is about. Ivy nectar and pollen is particularly important to many insects before they go into hibernation and the berries, which have a high fat content, are a great winter food source for birds. Plus ivy provides shelter for insects, birds, bats and other small mammals.

So perhaps look at ivy through different eyes next time you are out for a walk. I greatly enjoyed the sight of this bush that I passed the other day, covered in berries. Growing in starbursts they have a beauty of their own. And whilst you are looking closely, notice that on mature plants, i.e. those that are flowering, the leaves are oval. You will only find "ivy-shaped" leaves on juvenile ivy! Thinking about making your garden more wildlife friendly - then why not plant come ivy.

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