How did it get here?
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
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.
- Prefers shade but can grow in part sun.
- Moist, but not extremely wet,
- 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.
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
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
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
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
- 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
- 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
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.
Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service
Poisonous plant fact sheet