Ivies are climbing or trailing plants with glossy, evergreen leaves native to much of the temperate world. Though probably most often thought of in connection with their climbing abilities -- the term Ivy League making us think of staid college buildings bedecked with ribbons of attached ivy -- they also find popular use as a ground cover, particularly in shaded areas. The American Ivy Society distinguishes among nine different types of ivy leaves according to the Pierot system, ranging from variegated to heart-shaped and "oddities." All true ivies, however, have lobed leaves in one stage of growth and non-lobed leaves in another.
True ivies have two growth stages, the juvenile, during which the plant climbs and creeps, and a mature phase when they reach the top of their support and take on a more shrubby appearance. According to the University of California, Davis, ivies of the Hedera genus generally produce dark-green, three-lobed leaves up to 12 inches long in their juvenile stage, which may last for 10 years or more, and ovate to diamond-shaped leaves up to 6 inches in the non-climbing adult stage of growth.
The common English ivy (Hedera helix), as the Missouri Botanical Garden notes, has during its juvenile stage 4-inch, dark green leaves with three to five lobes perched on non-flowering stems, and as an adult, non-lobed, heart-shaped leaves on stems that flower in autumn. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, English ivy can be very invasive, so much so that certain jurisdictions refer to it as a "noxious weed" and urge the use of non-invasive alternatives.
A favorite ground cover, Persian ivy (Hedera colchica), hardy in USDA zones 6 though 9, will also climb to 40 feet. The cultivar Bullock's heart (Hedera colchica “Dentata Variegata”) has the largest leaves of the ivies in the Hedera genus. Its large, juvenile leaves are between 3 and 7 inches wide and 10 inches long and have a slightly toothed pattern that sometimes looks like lobes, though the leaves are closer to heart-shaped than anything else. Bullock’s heart ivy grows in both sun and shade on a wide variety of soil types.
Algerian ivy (Hedera algeriensis) is winter hardy in USDA zones 7b and above. Also known as Canary Islands ivy (Hedera canariensis), its juvenile form features 5- to 8-inch lobed leaves that are widely spaced along the trailing, woody stems. Despite its limited cold-hardiness, it is a relatively tolerant plant, growing in both sun and shade. It too can be invasive, so keep it confined.
Though not a true ivy, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a climbing vine that is widely lumped in with the rest of the plants of this name. It is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, and will grow in both sun and shade, though it displays better fall color in sunlight. Leaves are somewhat large, between 4 and 8 inches across, and usually have three lobes, though they sometimes occur as compound leaves with three leaflets instead.
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Ivy
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Parthenocissus Tricuspidata
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Hedera Helix
- North Carolina State University: Hedera Canariensis
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Hedera Colchica "Dentata Variegata"
- University of California Davis: English, Algerian and Atlantic Ivy
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Cultural Guidelines for Commercial Production of Interiorscape Hedera
- North Carolina State University: Friends of the Arboretum Newsletter, Number 23, August 1992
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plectranthus Australis
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Indoor Ivy
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