Hedera Helix Ivy

To my mind, not nearly enough people share my enthusiasm for these evergreen woody perennials that creep and climb by aerial rootlets – the ivies. Outdoors, you see the hardy and familiar forms everywhere. But indoors, the decorative possibilities in the more refined varieties are seldom realized.

Nor do enough people know the fascinating variety of intricately fluted, crinkled, cut-edged leaves, and inconceivably wide range of sizes, shapes, and color markings. There are silver-edged leaves as tiny as teardrops, and glossy green four-inch leaves shaped like a perfect heart; ivies with leaves so closely crowded they pile up on each other, and others whose long, graceful stems create an airy, open shadow; varieties with no two leaves exactly alike, and others with each new leaf a perfect replica of the last.

Among the hundred-odd named ivies offered by house-plant suppliers are vines for bold foliage effect or delicate, dense or lacy; that stay dwarf in a small pot or climb to twenty feet; with smooth, lobed leaves or crested and parsley-like. Most will climb and cover an indoor wall or other support, or dangle down from shelf or mantel. And many will grow in a glass of water for months on end.

Cultivars of Hedera Helix

Outdoors, ivies make evergreen blankets for building and other walls, climb lamp posts and tree trunks, cover the ground where grass won’t grow. In container gardens they serve every decorative purpose – accent, blender, background – and will even stay fresh and green through the winter. Ivies adapt willingly to the most intricate espalier and treillage designs. Or they’ll sprawl informally around a rock garden.

Growing Ivy Outdoors

These vines are not fussy about soil, as long as drainage is good. Rich, high-humus soil produces faster, lush growth; leaner soil helps restrain growth. Soil should be always moist, but not soggy.

Full sun is neither needed nor desirable. In fact, late winter sun can dangerously burn and dehydrate the leaves. In the heat of summer, foliage benefits by frequent washing with a hose to clean away dust, dirt, and insects.

Hardiness depends, of course, on climate, cultural conditions, and ivy variety. More varieties are hardy when planted in light shade and moist soil. Watering thoroughly before the ground freezes also benefits hardiness. To be on the safe side in selecting varieties, ask some local authority for advice.

Ivies should be pruned and trained carefully for any of many purposes. Never let them intrude in window frames or gutters, or sink their roots under shingles or clapboard. Unrestrained, an ivy can choke a growing tree to death. And prune for decorative effect, to thin out massed stems and leaves. Against a brick or stone wall a pattern – not necessarily formal – is more pleasing when it breaks up the area than when it masks it entirely.

Growing Ivy Indoors

Again, ivies need good daylight, but not necessarily sunlight. Cooler temperatures (65∞ or less) keep them fresher looking – and so does misting the leaves as often as possible. Average house-plant soil is adequate, and should be kept moist but not wet.

Except for the naturally self-branching varieties, pinch out growing tips frequently to keep the plant more compact, or to produce plenty of side branches to train on a support or cover a surface.

Like an indoor version of outdoor topiary, ivies are often trained to cover forms of various shapes – trees, balls, hoops, stars, or even outlines suggesting birds or animals.


The ivies propagate naturally by layering. Simply cut off and pot up stems that have rooted where they touch the ground. Stem cuttings, both tips and sections, also root readily – often in a glass of water.

With little effort and in a few short weeks, you can easily root enough cuttings to set out as ground cover under a good-sized tree. Cut long, trailing stems (the gift of your neighbor, perhaps) into sections with two or three leaves. Remove the bottom leaf only. Insert the cuttings, in rows, in a flat of moist sand, or a mixture of sand and peat. And keep the flat moist, in a shaded spot outdoors, until fresh new growth tells you roots have been formed.

Species And Named Varieties

Of the five recognized species of hedera, four are generally available in this country – and one of these in an unlimited number of fascinating variations.

Hedera colchica – colchic ivy – Large, heart-shaped leaves up to ten inches long that are fragrant when crushed. It is grown outdoors in mild climates, and has been used as a ground cover in New Jersey.

Hedera canariensis (algeriensis, maderensis) – Algerian or Canary Island ivy – Large (to six inches) thin leaves, variegated and not, with red stems. An indoor favorite in the North, it thrives outdoors in warm sections.

There are several variations of variegation – leaves may be bordered with cream, marbled white-on-green, or merely flecked. Some listed varieties are: ‘Madiera,”Gloire de Morengo,”Canary Cream,’ ‘Fleur de Lis,’ ‘Ghost Tree,’ variegata or aureo-maculata.

Hedera rhombea (japonica) – Japanese ivy – Waxy, heart-shaped leaves in compact formation. It is not reliably hardy in the North.

Hedera helix – English ivy – Five-lobed leaves of moderate (2 – 1/2 inches) size with cream-white or gray-white veins. Here is where even wider variation enters the picture. This vine is capricious about sporting, producing spontaneous growth that may be partly or completely different from the parent plant. These mutations may also mutate further, or may revert to something like the original form. So it is practically impossible to keep up with and keep count of the number of varieties available – and particularly, to keep their nomenclature straight.

Baltic ivy, hardiest for outdoor use, is a variety of English ivy, Hedera helix baltica. The leaves are slightly smaller and more deeply cut. It, too, is available in a number of variations. Among the variegated versions is the new ‘Stardust,’ with smaller, closely set leaves dusted or edged with silvery white.

Irish ivy is robust large-leaved variety, Hedera helix hibernica, more vigorous in temperate areas. It makes a quick cover where growing conditions and climate are favorable. The English ivy offered by nurseries is often actually this Irish variety.

Bulgarian ivy, Hedera helix ‘Bulgaria,’ is a hardy variety particularly suitable for growing in hot, dry climates. The thin dark-green leaves have lighter veins.

Following is a representative list of other named varieties of Hedera helix , all delightful foliage plants for interior decoration, some also fairly hardy out of doors.

Hedera helix ‘Buttercup’ – Indoor or outdoor version with small, close-set leaves lavishly suffused with bright gold.

Hedera helix caenwoodiana – Also recommended for indoors or out. Delicate leaves with the center lobe extended like a pointed finger, raised white veins.

Hedera helix ‘California Gold’ – Large leaves flecked with gold.

Hedera helix cristata ‘Curlilocks1 – Leaf margins crisply ruffled, growth quite dense.

Hedera helix digitata (palmata) – Freely branching and fast trailing, with small fingerlike leaves.

Hedera helix ‘Emerald Jewel’ – Free brancher with shiny, three-pointed, glossy leaves.

Hedera helix ‘Fan’ (crenata) – Medium-sized leaves crinkled, or pleated like a fan.

Hedera helix ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ – Self-branched and slow growing, with bouffant, curly

leaves, new growth tipped with brown fuzz.

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ or ‘Iceberg’ – Small gray-green leaves trimmed with white on the edge.

Hedera helix ‘Gold Dust’ – Three-lobed leaves green mottled with gold. ‘Goldhearr – Neat variety with striking yellow center on small heart-shaped leaves.

Hedera helix ‘Green Ripples’ – Deep-green leaves may be rippled, notched, pointed. ‘Green Spear’ – Many small, slender, spear-shaped leaves.

Hedera helix ‘Hahn’s Self-Branching’ – Compact variety, hardy in mild climates. Variegated’ – Less temperamental than many variegated forms. Small gray-green leaves with trim white edging.

Hedera helix helvetica – Small, white-veined, shield-shaped leaves.

Hedera helix ‘Itsy Bitsy’ – Tiny-leaved form, compact habit.

Hedera helix ‘Ivalace’ – Small leaves with edges curled and crested; compact growth. ‘Jubilee’ – Miniature variegated variety with leaves irregularly shaped and marked.

Hedera helix ‘Manda’s Crested’ – Waxy, star-shaped leaves fresh green and fluted. ‘Maple Queen’ – Hardy to Philadelphia; compact and well-branched, with small light-green leaves.

Hedera helix marmorata – Small deep-green leaves mottled with white.

Hedera helix meagheri (‘Green Feather’) – Tiny, feathery-cut leaves; hardy in all but severe areas.

Hedera helix ‘Merlon Beauty’ – Small leaves of varying shapes.

Hedera helix minima – Dwarf with wavy leaves.

Hedera helix ‘My Heart’ – Green leaves like a large Valentine heart.

Hedera helix ‘Needlepoint’ – Slender, dainty leaves with narrow points.

Hedera helix pedata – birdsfoot ivy – Three-lobed leaves accented with white veins. Makes a long or high vine. Sometimes confused with caenwoodiana.

Hedera helix ‘Pin Oak’ – Well-branched plant with sharply cut leaves. ‘Pittsburgh’ – Hardy except in severe areas; leaves similar to the species.

Hedera helix Purpurea’ – Colorful variation of baltica, with leaves turning bronzy-purple in winter. Recommended as hardy, good for wall covering.

Hedera helix ‘Shamrock’ – Three-lobed leaves joined shamrock-style.

Hedera helix ‘Silver King’ – Small variegated version, like a lax ‘Glacier.’ ‘Star’ – Compact and bushy, with five-pointed leaves.

Hedera helix ‘Sweetheart’ (deltoidea) – Smaller version of ‘My Heart.’

Hedera helix ‘Tear Drop’ – New self-brancher with drop-shaped leaves green, crinkled between the veins.

Hedera helix Telecurl – Willing brancher with delicately ruffled, pointed leaves.

Hedera helix wahhamensis – baby ivy – Miniature version of helix, even to fine white veins.

Hedera helix ‘Weber’s California’ – Medium leaves with five neat lobes.

Family: Araliaceae
Common Name: Ivy

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