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School Watch


Eidhneán (Irish name)

Hedera helix (Latin name)

Ivy is one of our commonest plants and one of the easiest to recognise. It is an evergreen plant that grows on trees and walls. It does well in the mild climate of Ireland where it grows and flowers prolifically. The Irish ivy (Hedera helix hibernica or Hedera hibernica) differs from the common ivy in subtle characteristics, some of which can only be seen with a magnifying lens. Its distribution in Ireland is currently under investigation.

All plants and animals must adapt to their environment to survive. Like all plants in a woodland, ivy needs plenty of light to survive. Most plants in a woodland (the trees) do this by producing woody stems to support them as they grow upwards to the light. This uses up a lot of energy in the tree. The ivy uses a different strategy. It “piggy back’s” on the side of the woody tree. It uses little or no energy in climbing up the tree to reach the canopy of the tree where it uses the light to make food.

Another adaptation of the ivy plant is the time of the year at which it produces its fruit. Most plants flower in summer and produce fruit and seeds in the autumn. The ivy, on the other hand, produces its flowers in Winter, and its unusual black berries in Spring. In Spring there is a shortage of food for the birds and they feed on these black berries thereby spreading the seeds of the ivy plant ensuring the spread of the plant.

Another unusual property of the ivy plant is the possession of two types of leaves on the plant. Leaves on non-flowering stems, at the base of the plant are lobed, while those on flowering shoots, nearer the top of the plant are without lobes.

Ivy is associated with Christmas and is often brought into into the home at this time of year with many other plants, e.g. holly and mistletoe, but it is considered very unlucky to bring ivy into the home at any other time of the year. The use of ivy as a Christmas decoration arose through a superstition that house goblins (grotesque fairies) were at their most malicious at Christmas-time. To guard against them, the custom arose of hanging ivy and holly on doors, beams and fireplaces.

One of the great debates over the years is whether to remove ivy that is growing on trees. Take a trip along any main road or a walk along a tree lined river or canal and note how many of the trees are covered by ivy. Prof. Risteard Mulcahy, former cardiologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital feels so strongly that so many of our trees appear to be damaged by ivy that he has written a book on the topic (For Love of Trees). On the other hand, many people feel that ivy is an addition to a tree. It provides a home for many insects, a nesting place for many birds and a hiding place for many animals.

In folk medicine, in both Britain and Ireland, the main use of ivy has been in the treatment of corns. In Ireland, burns and scalds were also treated with an ointment made from the boiled leaves and fat and it was also used to stop bleeding and reduce inflammation.

1. What is the Irish name for Ivy?

2. How can you tell the difference between Irish ivy and common ivy?

3. Why does ivy “piggy back” up trees?

4. Give any other adaptation of ivy?

5. Explain how ivy leaves differ from the top of the tree and the bottom?

6. Apart from ivy, name anothe plant that is associated with Christmas.

7. Why is it considered unlucky to bring ivy into a house?

8. Give one reason why ivy should not be allowed to grow on trees.

9. GIive one reason why ivy should be allowed grow on trees.

10. Give any one medicinal use of ivy.



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