Nature Bulletin No. 532-A June 1, 1974
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Strictly speaking, an ivy is one of five species of woody vines with
evergreen leaves. They are famous for their ability to climb and creep
over the walls of buildings. However, there are some other kinds of
woody climbing vines, also known as ivies, which shed their leaves
each autumn and belong to much different plant families. Further, there
are several plants popularly called ivies because they have long trailing
stems, although none of them is woody and they do not climb.
example, Ground Ivy is one name for Creeping Charlie or Gill-
over-the-ground, a pesky weed that spreads by means of long stems or
"runners" that take root at intervals. It has little purplish flowers and is
related to catnip in the Mint Family. Kenilworth Ivy, used in homes and
greenhouses, is another crawling plant with weak stems that root freely
at their joints. It belongs to the same family as our common mullein.
German Ivy, also used in hanging gardens because of its long twining
stems, has composite flowers and is related to such plants as burdock
and Canada thistle.
The true ivies are members of the Ginseng Family. Their woody vines
cling to wood or masonry surfaces by means of innumerable aerial
rootlets. They are peculiar in that leaves on the older vines have from 3
to 7 lobes, depending upon the species, but those on the young creeping
vines tend to be narrower and have fewer lobes. In autumn, clusters of
small greenish flowers bloom on the younger growths, followed by little
black or yellowish berries that do not ripen until the following spring.
These berries contain a poisonous substance. It is also present in the
leaves and stems which may cause a severe skin rash if they are handled
by susceptible people.
known and most widely used is the English Ivy, a European
species, it leaves are dark green above, much lighter underneath, and
rather stiff. At least two dozen varieties have been developed, some of
them for use as ground cover in heavily shaded places. Irish Ivy, which
has larger leaves, is an African species frequently used in England as a
ground cover beneath big yew trees where grass will not grow. It does
not do well in North America.
Of the deciduous ivies -- those that shed their leaves in autumn -- the
favorite in our country is the Boston or Japanese Ivy. It climbs and
clings to walls by means of short many-branched tendrils that have tiny
adhesive pads at their tips. The apple-green leaves assume beautiful
hues of red, orange and bronze in autumn. Its little bluish black berries
hang on until late in spring.
Our native American Ivy, a member of the Grape Family, is commonly
called Virginia Creeper or Woodbine. It has large compound leaves,
each with five-toothed leaflets, and is a harmless beautiful climber. It
should not be confused with Poison Ivy, that 3-leaves villain of the
Dear Old Alma Mater, with her Halls of ivy!
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Update: June 2012