Fact Sheet

English Ivy (Hedera helix L.)

September 24, 2007

Plant. Evergreen woody vine climbing to 90 feet (28 m) by clinging aerial roots and trailing to form dense ground cover. Thick dark-green leaves with whitish veins and three to five pointed lobes when juvenile. Maturing at about 10 years into erect plants or branches with unlobed leaves and terminal flower clusters that yield purplish berries. Toxic to humans when eaten and triggering dermatitis in sensitive individuals.

Stem. Woody slender vines when a ground cover and growing to 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter when climbing infested trees and rocks by many fine to stout aerial rootlets. Vines pale green (sometimes reddish tinged), rooting at nodes, becoming covered with gray-brown shiny bark, segmented by encircling and raised leaf scars, and roughened by tiny ridges. Bark light gray to brown, bumpy and gnarly, with aerial rootlets developing along the side where clinging to vertical structures. Aerial rootlets exuding a gluelike substance. Older vines sometimes grown together where crossed.

Leaves. Alternate, with shapes varying according to age—typical juvenile plants having three to five pointed lobes and mature plants broadly lanceolate and unlobed, 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) long and 2.5 to 5 inches (6 to 12 cm) wide. Thick and waxy, smooth and hairless, dark green with whitish veins radiating from the petiole and pale green beneath. Petioles to 6 inches (15 cm) long, pale green and often reddish tinged.

Flowers. June to October. Terminal hairy-stemmed umbel clusters of small greenish-yellow flowers on mature plants. Five thick and pointed petals, 0.1 inch (3 mm) long. Each petal radiating from a five-sided domed green floral disk, 0.1 inch (3 mm) wide, tipped by a short pistil.

Fruit and seeds. October to May. Clusters of spherical drupes, 0.2 to 0.3 inch (7 to 8 mm). Pale green in late summer ripening to dark blue to purplish in late winter to spring.

Ecology. Thrives in moist open forests, but adaptable to a range of moisture and soil conditions, including rocky cliffs. Shade tolerance allowing early growth under dense stands, but becoming adapted to higher light levels with maturity. Avoids wet areas. Amasses on infested trees, decreasing vigor, and increasing chance of windthrow. Serves as a reservoir for bacterialleaf scorch that infects oaks (Quercus spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.), and maples (Acer spp.). Spreads by bird-dispersed seeds and colonizes by trailing and climbing vines that root at nodes. Drupes mildly toxic, discouraging over consumption by birds.

Resembles grape, Vitis spp., which has a leaf that is similarly shaped but not thick and often hairy.

History and use. Introduced from Europe in colonial times. Traditional ornamental and still widely planted as an ornamental. Source of varnish resin, dye, and tanning substances.

Recommended control procedures:

  • Thoroughly wet all leaves (until runoff) with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (July to October for successive years): Garlon 3A or Garlon 4 as a 3- to 5-percent solution (12 to 20 ounces per 3-gallon mix) or a glyphosate herbicide as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix). Use a string trimmer to reduce growth layers and injure leaves for improved herbicide uptake. Cut large vines and apply these herbicides to cut surfaces.
  • Or, apply Garlon 4 as a 20-percent solution in commercially available basal oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene (2.5 quarts per 3-gallon mix) with a penetrant (check with herbicide distributor) to large vines being careful to avoid the bark of the host tree.