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Hedera helix - L.

Common Name Ivy, English ivy, Algerian ivy, Baltic Ivy, Common Ivy
Family Araliaceae
USDA hardiness 5-11
Known Hazards The plant is said to be poisonous in large doses[7, 10, 65, 76] although the leaves are eaten with impunity by various mammals without any noticeable harmful affects. The leaves and fruits contain the saponic glycoside hederagenin which, if ingested, can cause breathing difficulties and coma[274]. The sap can cause dermatitis with blistering and inflammation. This is apparently due to the presence of polyacetylene compounds[274].
Habitats Woodlands, hedges and shady places, climbing up trees, walls etc and clambering over the ground[7]. Found on all types of soils[7].
Range Europe, including Britain, south and east to the Mediterranean and Iran.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun
Hedera helix Ivy, 	English ivy, Algerian ivy, Baltic Ivy, Common Ivy

Hedera helix Ivy, 	English ivy, Algerian ivy, Baltic Ivy, Common Ivy


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Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Early fall, Late fall, Mid fall. Form: Prostrate, Variable spread.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of climber
Hedera helix is an evergreen Climber growing to 15 m (49ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower from October to November, and the seeds ripen from May to June. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil and can tolerate drought. It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Hedera poetica Salisb. [Illegitimate]


Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; not Deep Shade; Ground Cover; Hedge; Hedgerow; Bog Garden; North Wall. In.

Edible Uses

Although they are almost certainly not edible, there is a report that the seeds contain 16.2% protein and 35.1% fat[218].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antibacterial  Antirheumatic  Antiseptic  Antispasmodic  Astringent  Cathartic  Diaphoretic  Emetic  
Emmenagogue  Parasiticide  Skin  Stimulant  Vasoconstrictor  Vasodilator  Vermifuge

Ivy is a bitter aromatic herb with a nauseating taste[238]. It is often used in folk herbal remedies[218], especially in the treatment of rheumatism and as an external application to skin eruptions, swollen tissue, painful joints, burns and suppurating cuts[9, 238]. Recent research has shown that the leaves contain the compound 'emetine', which is an amoebicidal alkaloid, and also triterpene saponins, which are effective against liver flukes, molluscs, internal parasites and fungal infections[238]. The leaves are antibacterial, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, cathartic, diaphoretic, emetic, emmenagogue, stimulant, sudorific, vasoconstrictor, vasodilator and vermifuge[7, 218, 238]. The plant is used internally in the treatment of gout, rheumatic pain, whooping cough, bronchitis and as a parasiticide[238]. Some caution is advised if it is being used internally since the plant is mildly toxic[7]. Excessive doses destroy red blood cells and cause irritability, diarrhoea and vomiting[238]. This plant should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[238]. An infusion of the twigs in oil is recommended for the treatment of sunburn[4]. The leaves are harvested in spring and early summer, they are used fresh and can also be dried[9]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Hedera helix for cough, bronchitis (see [302] for critics of commission E).

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Hair  Hedge  Hedge  Parasiticide  Pollution  Soap  Wood

A yellow and a brown dye are obtained from the twigs[46, 61]. A decoction of the leaves is used to restore black fabrics[7, 46, 53] and also as a hair rinse to darken the hair[7, 53]. If the leaves are boiled with soda they are a soap substitute for washing clothes etc[61]. An excellent ground cover for shady places, succeeding even in the dense shade of trees[197, 208]. A very effective weed suppresser[190]. The cultivars 'Hibernica', 'Lutzii' and 'Neilsonii' have been especially mentioned[190]. Plants can be grown along fences to form a hedge. The variety 'Digitata' is very useful for this[200]. Plants have been grown indoors in pots in order to help remove toxins from the atmosphere. It is especially good at removing chemical vapours, especially formaldehyde[259]. The plants will probably benefit from being placed outdoors during the summer[259]. The wood is very hard and can be used as a substitute for Buxus sempervirens (Box), used in engraving etc[46, 61]. Another report says that the wood is very soft and porous and is seldom used except as a strop for sharpening knives[4].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest  Ground cover  Hedge  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Cascades, Container, Erosion control, Ground cover, Massing. Ivy is a very easily grown plant that dislikes waterlogged, very dry or very acid soils but otherwise succeeds in all soil types[1, 17, 238]. It grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers some lime in the soil. Tolerates very dense shade[24, 31], though it may not flower in such a position[K]. The plant is very hardy and tolerant of atmospheric pollution[4]. Established plants are drought tolerant[190]. A very ornamental and hardy plant[190], it tolerates temperatures down to about -25°c[184]. There are many named varieties[190], the variegated forms are less hardy than the species and also require more light[238]. Ivy is a rampant climbing plant, clinging by means of aerial roots and often trailing on the ground in woods and hedges[186]. It is of benefit rather than harm when growing on a wall because it keeps the wall dry and acts as an insulation[11, 24]. It does not damage the structure of a wall. Similarly, it does not harm large trees when climbing into them, though it can shade out smaller and ailing trees[200]. It is not a parasitic plant, but instead obtains all its nutrient from the sun and the soil[186]. A very good plant for wild-life, it provides dense shelter for birds, spiders etc, an abundant late supply of nectar for insects and a supply of seeds for winter food[4, 24, 186]. It is a food plant for the larvae of many species of butterfly[24, 30]. A very variable plant, there are many named varieties. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Naturalizing, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms. In garden design, as well as the above-ground architecture of a plant, root structure considerations help in choosing plants that work together for their optimal soil requirements including nutrients and water. The root pattern is branching: a heart root, dividing from the crown into several primary roots going down and out [2-1].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Seed - remove the flesh, which inhibits germination, and sow the seed in spring in a cold frame[113]. Four weeks cold stratification will improve germination[113]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a shady position in a frame. Good percentage[78]. Cuttings of mature wood, 12cm long, November in a cold frame[78]. Layering. Plants often do this naturally.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Native Plant Search

Search over 900 plants ideal for food forests and permaculture gardens. Filter to search native plants to your area. The plants selected are the plants in our book 'Plants For Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens, as well as plants chosen for our forthcoming related books for Tropical/Hot Wet Climates and Mediterranean/Hot Dry Climates. Native Plant Search

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future   Fri Dec 28 2007

Ivy can succeed in very shallow soils so long as they are not too wet. Although the plant pretty much looks after itself and is very tough, it is important to give young specimens some TLC when planting them out and in their first year of growth. In shallow soils, for example, it is important to add a good mulch of organic matter and ensure the soil stays moist. Once established, you should be able to leave the plant to its own devices.

ivan   Mon Dec 10 2007

I would like to know what is the minimum depth the soil has to be in order to plant an hedera elix, common ivy

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future   Fri Dec 28 2007

Ivy can succeed in very shallow soils so long as they are not too wet. Although the plant pretty much looks after itself and is very tough, it is important to give young specimens some TLC when planting them out and in their first year of growth. In shallow soils, for example, it is important to add a good mulch of organic atter and ensure the soil stays moist. Once established, you should be able to leave the plant to its own devices.

Dr. Muhammad Ibrar   Tue Apr 15 2008

Hedera helix is also antidiabetc/hypoglycemic(Ibrar, M. et al,2003. Pakistan J. Botany, 35(5):805-809) AND cytotoxic (Ibrar,M. et al. Pakistan J. Botany,339SPECIAL ISSUE):697-702, 2001. iT IS USED IN FOLKLORIC MEDICINES AS A USEFUL ANTIDIABETC HERB.

Lynette Quinn   Sun May 11 2008

We have ivy in most of our trees, including fruit trees. My partner is adamant that it is harming the trees and wants to get rid of all. please help!! We have bats which i believe might be roosting in the ivy?? some sites say it is harmless others that it should be contained. thank you

s.k.verma   Sat Apr 11 2009

this herbaceous climber is agood looking and abundentaly available in hilly areas 5000 - 8000 feet. its use as hair rinse to darken hairs is new for me.

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