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Ivy, or as its known in French Lierre, is not my favourite plant. It tries to grow up the walls of our house in France and damages the mortar. It also tries to grow up the trunks of the trees and whilst I am told it does not kill the trees, I still do not like it. I also think the flowers smell quite bad. However it is a very important flower for the insects particularly at this time of year.

Ivy in flower

Ivy in flower

The main problem with ivy is its aerial roots which grow out from the stems and perform two functions, the first is to effect a very firm attachment to whatever they are climbing up and the second is to suck up water. This is what causes damage to the mortar on buildings. It is especially a problem on our house which is quite old and the mortar is a mix of clay soil and lime so it is quite soft. This mortar is also much-loved by solitary bees and wasps, but I can live with them.

Ivy6The leaves of ivy exhibit a trait known as heterophylly which means they have two sorts of leaves. Many aquatic plants show this, where one leaf is adapted to live underwater and another leaf is designed to live on or above the surface.  For aquatic plants it is quite obvious why they would need two different shaped leaves, but for ivy it is more difficult to see a reason. The leaves on the flowering stems are ovate and pointed whereas on the non flowering stems the leaves are three to five lobed and are the typical ivy shape.

Ivy flowers on and off all year but it is particularly important at this time of year when there are so few other plants in flower. It provides insects which overwinter as adults with a last top up of energy before they have to hunker down for the winter. It is also often on hand for a first meal when they wake up in the Spring and need to quickly take on food before all their reserves are gone. It is of particular use to some butterflies like the Peacock and Red Admiral and, of course, to bees.

Furthermore in the winter and early spring it produces dark blue/black berries which are very useful to hungry birds.

To see other flowers of the month click Flower of the Month

and to see or identify wildflowers from this region of Poitou-Charentes click Wild flowers of Poitou-Charentes