Treat your wildlife to some ivy

15 March 2013

I hate to see a wall where well-grown ivy has obviously removed. I appreciate this sometimes cannot be avoided, but if at all possible, please keep your ivy: it is such a good plant for wildlife. The Holly Blue butterfly lays its eggs on ivy, so the caterpillars can feed on the flower buds, and sixteen species of moth are also known to use it as a caterpillar food plant. The flowers then provide nectar for late butterflies – the photo at the foot of this article only shows four Red Admirals, but there were twelve at one point, feeding on a patch of ivy about half the size of a door. Many other insects will also throng round the flowers, and when the sun is out, even if you do not know the ivy flowers are there, you will hear the humming of the insects on it and pick up a deep, honey scent. After flowering, the ivy sets seed, and the resulting black berries are food for hungry birds in late winter – I sometimes become aware of a blackbird or pigeon because the ivy appears to shudder, as the bird pulls the berries from their stems.

Left: Speckled Wood. Centre: Holly Blue. Right: an insect. All on ivy.

Left: Speckled Wood. Centre: Holly Blue. Right: an insect. All on ivy.

That’s not all, either. The tangle of ivy growth also provides a hidey-hole for all sorts of creatures. I have gone outside on warm summer nights and been able to hear the snails moving around in the cover: better they haunt the ivy than my prize plants, though they are probably on their way to do just that. Butterflies may also use it for shelter, and the Brimstone is known to hibernate in ivy. Birds also find it important cover, and will nest in it. We deliberately leave the ivy on our garage to grow very thick, and we may have blackbirds starting to nest in it this year: we’ve seen two dive into the greenery several times recently. Ivy, although everygreen, needs to renew its leaves periodically, so there will be a lot of leaf litter at the foot of the plant, and this can again be good cover: we’ve had a hedgehog make a day nest in the leaves at the foot of our ivy, and we could hear him “snoring” as we walked past – you felt you had to be very quiet!

For the human, ivy serves as an excellent evergreen in the garden – one of the few native evergreens we have. The native ivy is striking enough, with its glossy green leaves, but there are many varieties if you want different colours and leaf shapes – www.fibrex.co.uk is a nursery which has a wonderful collection of ivies to set your imagination going.

I’ve been asked why the ivy on somebody’s wall does not flower. The answer is to do with the stages the plant goes through: while it is in its juvenile stage it only develops soft growth, it flowers when it creates adult, woody, growth, and I presume it cannot do this if you keep chopping it back and forcing it to put on more soft growth. There is concern about the damage ivy can do, but I think you just need to be sensible: you can’t have it blocking your gutters or lifting your roof tiles, but just growing up a solid wall is probably not going to damage the structure.

Four Red Admirals on ivy

Four Red Admirals on ivy

If you can identify the insect at the right of the panel of three, please let me know what it is.

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7 Responses to “Treat your wildlife to some ivy”

  1. I wonder if the mystery insect is a hover-fly? They normally look more yellow than that (they’re disguised as wasps to warn off predators), but they sometimes look more orange-y [like this -http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-jGA_iKVqYmg/UFsUsZqqa1I/AAAAAAAAAYU/2wAy35aY4Kg/s1600/Hornet+Hoverfly+%25288%2529.jpg]. Just a thought, I’m not sure…! great post though! 🙂 I’ll be sure to protect the ivy in my garden now.x

    • You could be right. I’ll have to sit down with my identification books and figure it out. I’m glad I’ve made you think about protecting your ivy – even if we all only do one thing for wildlife, it will make such a difference. Happy gardening!
      Lyn

  2. The insect is a hoverfly, Eristalis Interruptus most likely. This is probably a male due to the brighter colour. Seen in May in gardens,around flowers source: http://www.laurencecounter.com
    Love the blog Lyn, a great read especially during this cold weather!

    • Hi Lyn. Glad you like it, and thanks for the identification. Did have a bumble bee in the garden today – I keep telling myself Spring must be coming, but I’m not sure I believe myself.
      Lyn

  3. I believe your insect is a ‘hornet’ hover fly the largest of the hover flies.

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