Nature today | Flowering time for Ivy has started and it’s amazing

Quantity of meaning

The Everyday Ivy (Hedera helix) could easily be one of the most underrated plants in the Netherlands, especially now that the flowering season for this climbing plant has started. The small green flowers are almost invisible, but if you stand next to them on a sunny day, you can hear the hum of all the insect life. All kinds of butterflies, moths, bees, hoverflies and other insects; it’s a busy affair at Klimop. For insects, ivy is not only the place to be for refueling nectar, pollen is also in demand. The rare ivy silk bee is even completely specialized in ivy and feeds its larvae exclusively on ivy pollen. Many birds and mammals are also fond of ivy. They find shelter all year round in case of rain and danger, and in the spring many birds build their nests there. Another good feature of ivy: unlike many other plants, the species blooms in autumn and bears berries in spring. Ideal for many hungry thrushes and pigeons who have to do their best in early spring to find enough food. All in all, ivy is a very biodiverse plant! Fortunately, this plant can be found almost all over the Netherlands, and many gardens have also been enriched with it.


The stems of Ivy grow up along tree trunks and against walls, but can also crawl over the (forest) floor just as well. The plant has woody stems that attach to the tree trunk or wall with so-called root feet. In general, this can’t hurt. Ivy does not parasitize the tree, nor destroy the wall; he only uses them to climb up to get more sunlight. Only old walls with lime mortar and walls with loose plaster can be damaged by pulling Ivy from these walls. However, care must be taken that the stems do not grow between the roof tiles or grow in through cracks and crevices. The stems grow in thickness over time and can cause damage. When managed correctly, Ivy against a wall is only beneficial. Walls covered with ivy become less wet when it rains, and due to their insulating effect, they keep the heat in in winter and out in summer.

It is sometimes claimed that the weight of ivy increases the risk of branch or trunk breakage in old trees. That’s not quite right; a healthy tree can bear ivy just fine. In urban areas, the trunks of ivy growing high in the tree’s crown are regularly sawn through as a preventative measure. In general this is not necessary and certainly not in a wooded area where trees keep each other out of the wind. In addition, dead dried remains of the sawn ivy can then fall down. Ivy does not parasitize trees, does not compete for water and nutrients and trees are not slowly suffocated by ivy either. If you think about it, it would also be very unwise for Ivy to kill her own host and lose her access to much needed sunlight.


Ivy creeps across the forest floorAlthough the shape of the leaves on one and the same plant can be very variable, Ivy can be easily recognized by its characteristic leaf shape. The leaf is sometimes three-lobed, but usually five-lobed and 3 to 6 centimeters wide. The petiole is usually short at 3 to 5.5 centimeters. The veins are striking, usually in stark white contrast to the dark green leaves.

Ivy can be confused with Atlantic ivy (Helix hibernica). However, the leaf of Atlantic ivy is always five-lobed and with a width of 6 to 9 centimeters, much larger than that of the ivy. The petiole is also much longer at 5 to 12 centimeters. The veins are green and less contrasting with the rest of the leaf. You see another difference when they ‘crawl’ on the ground. Both species form a dense blanket, but the ivy is only a few centimeters high; in Atlantic ivy it is soon up to 20 centimeters high. Not sure which Ivy you encountered in the field? So take a look at this determination aid.

However, the last word has not yet been said on this. Crosses between Ivy and Atlantic Ivy have been detected in North America and Hungary. There are also several other types of ivy and countless varieties for sale in garden centers. The Atlantic ivy probably spread from gardens all over the Netherlands. With another widely planted species, the Caucasian ivy (Hedera colchica), it can also go that way. Who knows what else will be crazy about us. More eyes in the field are therefore desirable.

Text: Leonie Tijsma & Ruud Beringen, FLORON
Photos: Kars Veling (main photo: Ivy with Ivy Bee); Ruud Beringen

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