English Ivy
Hedera helix

How did it get here?

English Ivy Range MapEnglish Ivy’s native range is Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. It was probably introduced to North America from Europe in Colonial times. It is sold widely throughout the United States as a landscaping plant.

How to spot

English Ivy - invasives.orgEnglish ivy is a climbing, evergreen vine. The vines attach to the bark of trees or other surfaces with small rootlets that exude a glue-like substance. In older plants, vines may grow to 1 foot in diameter. Because of its popularity as a ground cover, horticulturists have developed many varieties of English ivy.

The most common form has dark-green, waxy, leathery leaves that grow alternately along the stem. Leaves typically have three lobes and a heart-shaped base.

Habitat characteristics

  • Prefers shade but can grow in part sun.
  • Moist, but not extremely wet, soil.
  • Woodlands, forest edges, fields, hedgerows, coastal areas, and edges of salt marshes.
  • Invades areas after natural or human-induced disturbances and frequently escapes its boundaries in landscaping.

Life Cycle

English Ivy with berriesEnglish ivy reproduces by seed and vegetatively. New plants grow when stems make contact with the soil. With enough sunlight, the plant produces clusters of small, greenish-white, five-part flowers in the fall. The ¼-inch black berries that form afterward contain hard, stone-like seeds. The fruits ripen during winter, and seeds mature by spring. The fruits contain toxic glycosides that make some birds vomit, disseminating the seeds.

Look-alikes and how to distinguish

  • Boston ivy or Japanese ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)—deciduous; serrated, three-lobed leaves.

Why is this plant a problem?

English ivy aggressively spreads across the ground, forming a dense blanket that shades and kills native plants. It also climbs up trunks and into trees, preventing sunlight from reaching the trees’ leaves. The weight of the vines makes a tree more likely to be toppled by storms. English ivy also hosts bacterial leaf scorch (Xyella fastidiosa), a plant pathogen that spreads to native elms, oaks, and maples.

Alternative, native ornamentals

GROUNDCOVERS:
Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
Creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera)
Evergreen wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis or intermedia)

VINES:
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

Management approaches

  • Hand-pull in small areas and cover with weed-blocking fabric and mulch or another groundcover. Bag and remove vines to prevent re-rooting. Vigilance is necessary to suppress and remove plants.
  • Cut stems that have climbed trees to separate the vine from its roots. Spray new roots on the ground. Do not spray herbicides into tree canopies or on trunks or bark.
  • Apply herbicides on new leaves in early spring. For recommended herbicides and instructions for application, see this North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension horticultural publication or the Ivy Removal Project.

NOTE ABOUT TOXICITY

All parts of this plant are toxic. Contact with sap may cause severe skin irritation with redness, itching, and blisters. Eating berries causes a burning sensation in the throat; ingestion of leaves may cause delirium, stupor, convulsions, hallucinations, fever, and rash.

Other resources

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service
Poisonous plant fact sheet

National Park Service
Fact sheets

 

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