The importance of ivy

The importance of ivy

Ivy has an image problem. For decades people have believed that ivy damages buildings and is a parasite to trees with little wildlife benefit. All this could not be further from the truth.

There are two native subspecies of ivy in Britain, and the plant forms a vital component of healthy ecosystems and can have multiple benefits to the buildings and structures it grows on. Here we take a look at some of these benefits and give ivy the positive spotlight it deserves.

Habitat hero 

Far from being a parasite, ivy does no harm to trees. The plant grows from the ground, getting its own water and nutrients, simply using the tree for support. The dense foliage ivy forms around trees and buildings, provides plenty of space for wildlife to shelter and breed. Birds make their nests in the cool quiet of the ivy leaves, and mammals, including bats, will make the most of the cover it provides.

As ivy is evergreen, it also means it provides shelter year-round, keeping wildlife warm in winter and cool in summer. It does the same for buildings and can save on insulation or cooling costs in respective seasons.

Caterpillars of the angle shades moth and holly blue butterfly feed on ivy leaves in spring, and it produces berries in winter, which are a nutritious meal to birds - in particular thrushes and blackbirds. Food is often scarce in the colder months, making the berries an important fat source.

Pollinator paradise 

Ivy flowers very late in the year, from September onwards, long after most flowers are over. The late nectar of ivy provides a last chance for invertebrates to feed up before they hibernate for the winter. Ivy bees are a recent coloniser of Britain and as their name suggests, these pretty bees are very dependent on the plant when they emerge in late summer. The rare golden hoverfly emerges at a similar time to the ivy bee, and the plant's nectar and pollen are also essential to the hoverfly.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust welcomes native ivy plants on our nature reserves for all the wildlife they support. Occasionally, if ivy is growing on a tree that is already diseased or dying, it may be necessary to cut ivy stems to kill the plant. This reduces the health and safety risk if the tree is near a path or building, as the fragile tree has less weight.