A Plant that is Loved and Hated
Flowering now is Ivy (Hedera helix) or Eidhneán in Irish, an evergreen, native climber which uses aerial roots along its stem to adhere to a host so that it can reach light (1). It is not a parasite as some people believe. It has its own root system completely independent of the host plant it uses for support.
There are two types of leaves: lobed and oval. Lobed ones have three to five lobes (2a). Oval ones are on fruit-bearing stems (2b). All leaves are leathery and glossy, dark green on the top and pale green underneath. They tend to avoid overlapping to maximise exposure to light. Some lobes are pointed; some are rounded.
Its yellow-green flowers bloom from September to December (3); these develop into black berries which ripen in January and February (4a;4b).
Is it a friend or a foe? Certainly, ivy has many positives in its favour. The flowers are full of nectar in the autumn when it is scarce elsewhere and so it provides food for late-flying insects such as honeybees and wasps. It fruits in winter providing food for hungry birds such as blackbirds, mistle thrushes, robins and pigeons. Birds roost in the shelter of its leaves. Finally, it is a haven for hibernating insects and butterfly larvae, prevents erosion of soil and is an attractive plant in the bare winter landscape.
The negatives. It can hinder growth by smothering leaves and preventing trees from breathing through its bark or weigh down branches until they break. By acting as a kind of sail, it can increase the risk of storm damage. It can destroy old walls and buildings of historical interest and increases dampness in walls.
Some placenames associated with ivy are Inagh in Clare and Mayo, Gleninagh in Clare and Galway and Corraginagh in Waterford.