Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Plant for all Seasons


Just when everything else is coming into flower, ivy is producing fruits. This is a plant that’s completely out of step with the rest of our flora, flowering in late autumn when almost all other blooms have withered. I can’t think of a better multipurpose plant, from the perspective of all the animal life that depends on it. In spring pheasants, wood pigeons and a wide variety of migrant birds are partial to its berries. In summer its dense foliage offers a well-hidden nest site for birds like wrens. In early autumn its flower buds are the food source for holly blue butterfly caterpillars. In autumn, there's a long-lasting, plentiful supply of nectar and pollen for a last-minute energy top up for hibernating insects, and in winter its evergreen foliage offers a waterproof hibernation site for insects. Add to that the fact that it’s more or less ubiquitous, growing on sand dunes and sea cliffs, in towns, on railway embankments, in woodlands and hedgerows. Is there a more versatile or more useful plant in our flora? I doubt it – but it’s so common that most of the time we don’t give it a second thought.

5 comments:

  1. My back fence is covered in it. A great plant.
    I was watching a Blackbird the other day helping himself to the berries. :)

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  2. I agree, a fantastic fauna-friendly plant. Over the last couple of years the warm south-facing ivy-clad walls along the cliff path near me on the Isle of Wight have been very popular with the Ivy Bee Colletes hederae, somewhat of a rarity now spreading on the South Coast. It's great fun watching their acrobatic postures while feeding from the tiny individual flowerheads in autumn.

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  3. At local eco park last autumn, the ivy was just about the only place you could find insect life. Such an important source for them.

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  4. Hi Rambling Rob. I remember when I was on a school field trip to the Isle of Wight, 46 years ago (gulp!)finding ivy broomrape Orobanche hederae growing on ivy roots at a place that must have been not far from the location you're refering to. Thik I have a photo somewhere. Maybe worth looking out for this summer?

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  5. Thanks Holdingmoments and Les. I have read that ivy has another interesting property - as a slug deterrent. Apparently slugs won't eat the leaves and an extract made from leaves ground up in water and sprayed on seedlings will deter slugs....although you couldn't use it for food crops, as I suspect the ivy contains natural toxins that would be harmful if eaten.

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