Many people who don’t have it growing on their property want it. Those who have it usually want to get rid of it. Once established, English ivy (Hedera helix) can take over a wall, tree or forest floor.
I don’t know of another plant more adaptable to indoor and outdoor use. Even cast iron plant has an Achilles heel. It doesn’t tolerate too much sunlight and won’t grow outside north of zone 7. English ivy grows in full shade and full sun. No, it won’t thrive in low light interior locations like cast iron plant will, but its adaptation to different environments is impressive.
English ivy is an evergreen vine with glossy leaves and prominent veins. It is hardy to northern New England. It grows best in moist but well drained soils with high organic matter. Plants don’t require much fertilizer. Once established it tolerates substantial drought due to a system of above and below ground roots. English ivy takes advantage of dew as well as any water source available.
Ornamental varieties can have a variety of leaf shapes and colors. They’re easy to propagate by stem cuttings and can tolerate lower interior temperatures than most houseplants. Plants respond well to misting, especially if the soil is kept on the dry side.
English ivy is not a native plant, and for this reason is frowned upon for landscape use by many people. It is an effective ground cover and soil conservation plant. However, it chokes out native vegetation and spreads to areas where it might not be wanted. It’s not unusual for plants to spread more than a hundred feet. Plants also respond well to pruning, so unless the entire plant is removed, remaining portions regrow vigorously.
English Ivy also climbs anything. It spreads by clinging adventitious roots that burrow into bark, masonry or house siding. It certainly can damage the appearance of siding, bricks or whatever it climbs upon. It can even weigh down and eventually topple some trees. It also can shade some of the tree foliage and that can reduce tree vigor.
However, it also provides insulation and can reduce heating and cooling costs. It also covers up unsightly areas along walls. There is considerable argument as to whether the ivy protects or degrades.
Some say the ivy traps water making the walls moister and more subject to decay. Others say the ivy soaks up the water and forms a barrier that protects the walls. It’s a trade-off, but most folks I’ve talked to would rather save money in other ways.
English ivy has a long list of medicinal uses. It is used to treat asthma, bronchitis, COPD, arthritis and other inflammations. Sometimes essential oils are used. This is often true for skin irritations. One potential problem is that some people are mildly sensitive to these oils and could develop a rash.
Some people make teas from the leaves to extract saponins and flavonoids that are helpful for reducing inflammation. High doses can cause nausea and vomiting. I’ve never fooled with it. Always consult your health professional before trying anything new.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).