The ivy plant is native to northern Africa, the Canary Islands and Azores, western Europe, the Himalayas, China, Korea, and Japan. They are categorized based on their leaves. Ivy-types have flat and five-point lobes. Heart-shape ivies have, as expected, heart-shaped leaves or triangular leaves with three-lobes.
Fan ivies have fan-like leaves or broad and multiple lobes of equal length like forward-facing fingers. Bird’s foot ivies have narrow lobes. Curly ivies have ruffled or pleated leaves.
Table of Contents
The Algerian Ivy, or Hedera algeriensis, is also called the Canary island or the North African ivy, and it does best in zones 6-10. The Algerian ivy has leathery, lobed, dark-green leaves that have a high-gloss look and hardy stems with red tinges in them. This type of ivy prefers rich, moist soil and is more tolerant of direct sun than English ivy, which it is closely related to. It grows faster and establishes itself quicker than other types of ivy, and its beautiful foliage and hardy stems make it a popular choice for use as groundcovers, in hanging baskets, and even in containers. However, because the Algerian ivy is native to areas with a lot of sun and humidity, it seldom does well in cool or cold climates, and it may even die in these conditions.
Known as the Hedera helix, the English ivy grows fast and vigorously, and it comes in two distinct forms: one is a juvenile form that grows lobed, dark-green leaves and has stems with no flowers on them; and a mature adult form that grows dark-green, unlobed leaves and stems that have small greenish-white flowers in the fall and yellow-orange flowers with dark berries afterwards. Ivies are perfect for winter gardens and grow quite large, up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet in width. They are a perennial plant that loves full to partial shade and is very hardy, low maintenance, and resistant to deer and rabbits. English ivies look great in hanging baskets, groundcovers, and covering unattractive fences or walls.
A type of English ivy, the Goldchild has won several international plant and flower awards. It is a plant with grey-green leaves and margins of bright gold. It is a versatile plant that does very well as a houseplant, although it also looks spectacular as a groundcover or even as a covering for a low wall. The Goldchild grows up to three feet tall and has leaves that can get two to three inches in width. It is also very ornamental and attractive, which is one of the reasons it is so popular.
Gloire de Marengo
This ivy is an Algerian ivy that grows up to 20 feet tall and three feet wide. It has luscious, dark, heart-shaped leaves that are four to five inches across and have creamy-white trim. The winner of several international plant and flower awards, the Gloire de Marengo is colorful, dramatic, and is perfect for trellises, slopes, and walls. Although the plant has some tolerance to drought, it prefers full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.
Also known as the Hedera hibernica, the Irish ivy is very similar to the English ivy, even sharing similar USDA zones and growing habits. In fact, the Irish ivy is often confused with the English ivy, and in some areas, it is actually considered a noxious or invasive plant. Some cities even consider it a nuisance plant and take measures to eliminate it whenever it is found on public lands. However, homeowners love the Irish ivy, and it is planted anywhere other types of ivy are successful because it is both low-maintenance and grows quite hardily.
The Ivalace is an English ivy with dark, shiny leaves that only stretch to one inch wide. The edge of each leaf is very curvy, making for a very unique type of ivy. It grows up to three feet tall and four feet wide, and its leaves have a lacy and cupped look. It grows fast and it makes a beautiful houseplant, although it can also be used as a groundcover in some areas and in small topiaries. The Ivalace needs to be sheltered from cold or dry winds, but otherwise, it does well in full sun or partial shade, as well as wet, but well-drained soils.
Like its name suggests, this ivy is native to Japan and is also called the Hedera rhombea or the Boston Ivy. It does best in warm weather and it grows very well in zones 8 and 9. The Japanese ivy is less strenuous than the Algerian ivy, and it grows up to 12 feet in length when it matures. The plant’s purplish-colored stems and lobed, heart-shaped leaves often contain blotches and streaks of pure white against the dark shiny green color of the leaves, making for a very striking plant. It is a climber that grows purple fruits and which turns red and purple in the Fall. You can often see the Japanese ivy plant climbing on walls and even the outside of homes and other buildings, and it also looks great as a groundcover because of its color.
The Needlepoint is an English ivy that has small leaves that are set close together. Its dark-green leaves have pointed lobes and a very ornamental look, which is why they are commonly found in hanging baskets or on stone walls as a clinging vine. The Needlepoint can get up to three feet in height and also looks great in containers because they are so decorative and eye-catching.
This plant, also known as Hedera nepalensis, is also called the Himalayan ivy. It does very well in zones 7-10 and prefers moist soil, partial shade, or morning sun. The leaves are diamond-shaped and glossy, and they appear to sag a little on the stems. The vines can grow up to 10 feet high and 10 feet wide, and its elongated leaves are bright green in color and can have whitish-colored markings throughout them. It is an evergreen plant that produces yellow flowers at one point and is very low maintenance as well.
Native to the Near East, the Persian Ivy, or Hedera colchica, grows best in zones 6-9, although it sometimes grows in zone 10 if it is protected from the hot sun. Sometimes called the “bullock’s heart” ivy because of the way the leaf is shaped, the Persian ivy is more tolerant of direct sun than other types of ivy, and it can even withstand occasional dry soils without dying. The Persian ivy grows up to six feet in width and from 10 to 40 feet high, and its heart-shaped leaves are the largest leaves of any of the ivy varieties, usually growing from four to 10 inches long. The Persian ivy is usually solid in color with a somewhat mottled look, and it can have a border of a creamy-white color, making it stand out among the various types of ivies.
The Russian ivy, or Hedera pastuchovii, is also called the Iranian ivy and is marketed as a perennial in zones 7 and higher. Several versions of the Russian ivy can survive in zone 5 if you add mulch to keep the soil a little warmer, and if you plant it farther north, you should consider it an annual if you want it to be successful. Russian ivies prefer sun to partial shade, have medium watering needs, and make great climbers. They have tiny flowers of white or cream, and they can cause skin irritations or even allergic reactions if handled too much by some people.
Also known as Plectranthus australis, this type of ivy grows best in zones 10 and 11, and it prefers partial shade, well-drained soil, and a soil that is rich in humus. The Swedish ivy stands out because it has erect stems and bright-green leaves, making it perfect to use as a border plant or as a groundcover. If you want an ivy that climbs really high, this is not the one for you, but it does have trailing vines that reach about two to three feet. Because of these characteristics, the Swedish ivy does better as a houseplant or outside in hanging baskets, borders, and for use around decks and patios.
Common Types and Characteristics of Ivy Plants
If you have a vertical space that you need to dress up a bit, such as an arbor, wall, or trellis, ivies are the perfect plant to choose. If you want a climbing ivy, you have several choices, and because ivies are tolerant and low-maintenance plants, you should be able to enjoy your climbing ivy for a very long time. Here are some of the best ivies to use as a climbing vine:
- Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis or Hedera algeriensis), which grows up to 30 feet in height and is hardy to zones 7b and 8.
- Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), an ivy that does great in zones 4-8 and can grow up to 50 feet high.
- Bullock’s Heart Ivy (Hedera colchica), an ivy with many different varieties that grows up to 40 feet high and is perfect in zones 6-9.
- English Ivy (Hedera helix), which is perfect for zones 4-9 and can get up to 80 feet in height.
Hedera helix is the most common type of indoor ivy plant and it is available in many different varieties. Also known by the name English ivy, it can be grown indoors or outdoors and has leaves that come in various colors, shapes, and sizes. In most documentation, indoor ivies are classified according to the shape and size of their leaves. The classic ivy is leafed and is made up of leaves that have rounded tips and which have three lobes; the bird’s foot variety has pointed tips and deep lobes; and the duck’s foot ivy has broad leaves, rounded tips, and leaves that are slightly lobed.
Indoor ivies can have leaves that are fan-shaped, flat, curled, lance-shaped, frilled, or ruffled, and their colors range from a deep solid green to a lighter green with variegations of yellow, silver, or creamy white. The Needlepoint is a miniature variety of indoor ivy and has tiny bird’s foot leaves, and the variety known as Curly Locks has some of the largest leaves, with large, curled leaves on the plant.
Although ivies are low maintenance and require little more than an occasional trimming so that they don’t overtake a garden, there are some ivies that are considered invasive in some areas. The Cape, or Germany ivy, also known as Delairea odorata, grows wild along the entire coast of California in its forests and can be found in wetlands, grasslands, oak forests, and scrublands. If the area is dry because the rainfall is irregular, these ivies die back, but can quickly revive once the rains return. In addition, English ivies, while great as a groundcover or as an ornamental plant, can become invasive quickly if you do not control their growth. More than 28 states, in fact, have classified this plant as invasive because it can actually discourage the growth of other important plants, due to its tendency to overwhelm the area.
Growth Habits of Ivies
If ivy plants are grown indoors, they can climb small trellises and trail from baskets, and they can even be trained to grow into different formations as topiaries. On the other hand, if you leave ivies alone, most of them will grow limitlessly and their vines will extend in many different directions, even intertwining at times. This is why, if you wish to grow ivies indoors, they will need regular pruning and trimming so that they don’t get out of control or look sloppy.
The ivies that come with small leaves will grow slow and look great in small containers or baskets, while the ivies with large leaves will usually grow faster and are perfect for larger hanging baskets. Ivies also tend to adhere to whatever surface they are grown on, thanks to tiny rootlets – also called suckers – that can grip materials such as concrete, wood, and stone. If you allow ivies to trail, these rootlets automatically develop and actually grow into the soil, which in turn will keep the vines in place for quite some time.
If you’re looking for the perfect ivy, your final choice will be determined by whether you want one with large or small leaves, indoor or outdoor use, and whether you want them in hanging baskets, groundcovers, or climbing on trellises. If you’re unsure of which one to choose, here are some characteristics of ivies that may help you decide:
- Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis) and Persian ivy (Hedera colchica) both grow extremely fast and have very large leaves that can get up to eight inches long. These fast-growing species tend to adapt better to the outdoors and can more quickly climb to cover an unattractive surface or a trellis.
- The Deltoidea species of the Irish ivy, or Hedera hibernica, has leaves that are leathery and dark-green in color, and they make great plants for the outdoors.
- The Japanese ivy, or Hedera rhombea, has vines that actually form mats and therefore, they make great groundcovers.
- The Nepal ivy, or Hedera nepalensis, has leaves that are slim with a lacy effect, making them perfect for hanging baskets.
Most ivies grown in the U.S. do best in zones 5-10, although caution is recommended in any zone under 7 because the leaves could die if the temperatures get below the freezing point. In places that have warm or mild winters, many ivies are evergreen plants, because their growth slows somewhat in the winter, but resumes the following spring. If you keep these and other tips in mind, it should be easier to determine which type of ivy that you should purchase.
Properties, Components, and Parts of Ivy Plants
The main active parts of the ivy plant consist of two main items:
- The fruits, which only some ivies have. The ones that contain fruits, which usually come out in the fall, have fruits that are toxic because of their high hederine content. The fruits have hemolytic, spasmolytic, and expectorant qualities that make them very dangerous; however, because they usually taste unpleasant and even bitter, there is little chance of anyone accidentally consuming enough of them to be deadly.
- The leaves, which come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The ivy’s leaves have also been proven to have medicinal qualities, although this should be studied thoroughly before utilizing this method and it should never be utilized except under the strict supervision of a medical professional.
The main components of an ivy plant are:
- Acids, including caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, malic acid, and formic acid.
- Estrogen hormones that are unidentified, which are found mainly in the leaves.
- Quercetin, which is an ingredient proven to relieve pain from arthritis and many other ailments, is a great anti-inflammatory, can alleviate high blood pressure and high cholesterol, is a natural antibiotic, and has even been shown to help with asthma, bad breath, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.
- Rutin, a flavonoid that has been shown to combat herpes, allergies, and bacterial infections; protect the liver from various ailments; prevent certain types of cancer; thin the blood, therefore decreasing the chances of a stroke; and help with ailments such as hypertension and circulatory problems.
- Saponins, which can be detrimental to your health when taken in large doses and can cause vomiting, dizziness, ulcers, stomach pain, bleeding, and more.
Purposes and Properties
If you want to use ivies for hanging on a wall, the best ones include the various types of Boston ivy, in part because it has suckers that will never damage the structure it is climbing on, although you’ll want to be careful when you have a wall with a painted surface. In addition, because the Boston ivy is not evergreen, it can turn colors that are beautiful and will drop leaves in the fall, but since it is such a great plant for climbing on your walls, this is a fair trade-off for most gardeners. It is best not to use the English ivy for climbers because it does not do nearly as well in this capacity as the Boston ivy. Furthermore, if you’re looking for the perfect ivy for climbing a wall – remember that there are several varieties of the Boston ivy – take into consideration the size of the climber, the type of weather and climate they do best in, and even which direction your wall faces, because all of these properties will affect what you choose in the end.
Ivy plants are also great as an attraction for birds, which can then eat dangerous and pest-like insects and bugs; to provide much-needed insulation from outside noises; to provide protection from the heat of the sun; and for decorating other structures, such as gates and fences.
There are also many medicinal purposes of ivy plants including the following:
- Helps the exchange of oxygen by increasing the production and secretion of liquid film
- Helps with bronchitis
- Helps with COPD
- Loosens up mucus, allowing it to exit your body quicker
- Modulates enzymes to protect your body
- Purifies the air, removing toxins such as toluene, benzene, xylene, and formaldehyde
- Reduces allergies
- Relaxes your airway muscles
- Removes toxins from the body
- Strengthens and tightens blood vessels
Of course, if you choose to use the English ivy plant as a type of medicine, there are a few things to keep in mind, including:
- Always use the extract of the ivy plant, and do not ingest the plant itself.
- Never use on very young children or animals.
- Never use the plant for anything if you are pregnant or a nursing mother.
- Never use it unless first consulting with a qualified physician.
- If you use the essential oil associated with the ivy plant, make sure that you dilute it before using it.
You can also research the medicinal uses of the ivy plant for additional details, and in fact, this is highly recommended before using the plant for any type of medicinal purpose.