Ivy is the common name for any of the evergreen woody vines and, rarely, shrubs that comprise the genus Hedera of the family Araliaceae.
There are 12-15 species of ivy.
Ivy is native to western, central and southern Europe, Macaronesia, northwestern Africa and across central-southern Asia.
It has been introduced into many parts of the world.
Ivy, Holly and other greenery such as Mistletoe were originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival and ward off evil spirits and to celebrate new growth.
In the Christmas carol, “The Holly and The Ivy,” we see a symbolism with these two evergreen plants that derives from pagan times.
In pagan times, holly was thought to be a male plant and ivy a female plant.
Ivy has to cling to something to support itself as it grows. This reminds us that we need to cling to God for support in our lives.
Many varieties of ivy are cultivated in gardens.
Growing them is an extremely simple matter, as they will thrive in a poor soil and endure a considerable depth of shade.
On level ground they remain creeping, not exceeding 5–20 cm height, but on suitable surfaces for climbing, including trees, natural rock outcrops or man-made structures such as quarry rock faces or built masonry and wooden structures, they can climb to at least 30 m above the ground.
Ivies have two leaf types, with palmately lobed juvenile leaves on creeping and climbing stems and unlobed cordate adult leaves on fertile flowering stems exposed to full sun, usually high in the crowns of trees or the tops of rock faces, from 2 meters (6.6 feet) or more above ground.
The flowers are greenish-yellow with five small petals; they are produced in umbels in autumn to early winter and are very rich in nectar.
The fruit is a greenish-black, dark purple or (rarely) yellow berry 5–10 mm diameter with one to five seeds, ripening in late winter to mid-spring. The seeds are dispersed by birds which eat the berries.
Ivies, in their many forms, are also popular houseplants.
Within its native range, the species is greatly valued for attracting wildlife. The flowers are visited by over 70 species of nectar-feeding insects, and the berries eaten by at least 16 species of birds. The foliage provides dense evergreen shelter, and is also browsed by deer.
The chemical that makes ivy leaves and fruits poisonous to consume, hederin, also is used medicinally to treat various respiratory disorders.
Ivies have proved to be a serious invasive weed in the parts of North America where winters are not severe, and their cultivation there is now discouraged in many areas.