Bill Johnson

English Ivy

Hedera helix L.
Ginseng gamily (Araliaceae)

Origin: Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa

European colonists introduced English ivy as early as 1727. It is widely planted for its evergreen foliage and dependability as a year-round “carefree” groundcover. Although recognized as a serious weed of natural ecosystems, parks, landscapes and other areas, it continues to be sold and marketed as an ornamental plant in the United States. Vast resources, time and labor are expended attempting to manage infestations on public and private lands.

Distribution and Habitat
English ivy is found throughout the eastern U.S. and in the West where it occurs from Arizona to Washington State. It flourishes under shady to full sun conditions in soils that are moderately fertile and moist but it is intolerant of drought and salinity. Habitats invaded include forest openings and edges, fields, cliffs, steep slopes, and disturbed areas.

Ecological Threat
English ivy is an aggressive invader that threatens all vegetation levels of forested and open areas, growing along the ground as well as into the forest canopy. Vines climbing up tree trunks spread out and envelop branches and twigs, blocking sunlight from reaching the host tree’s foliage, thereby impeding photosynthesis. An infested tree will exhibit decline for several to many years before it dies. The added weight of vines also makes trees susceptible to blowing over during storms. English ivy has been confirmed as a reservoir for bacterial leaf scorch (Xylella fastidiosa), a harmful plant pathogen that affects a wide variety of native and ornamental trees such as elms, oaks and maples.

Description and Biology

NOTE: The leaves and berries of English ivy contain the glycoside hederin which may cause toxicosis if ingested. Symptoms include gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, hyperactivity, breathing difficulty, coma, fever, polydipsia, dilated pupils, muscular weakness, and lack of coordination. This feature also helps ensure effective seed dispersal by birds.

James H. Miller, USDA FS

Chris Evans, River to River CWMA

Prevention and Control
Do not plant English ivy including invasive cultivars. Individual vines can be pulled by hand when soil is moist. Vines covering the ground can be uprooted and gathered using a heavy-duty rake, then close to the ground with pruning snips, Swedish brush axe or other cutting tool. Gathered vines can be piled up and allowed to desiccate and rot which will occur quickly, in a matter of days. If needed, material can be bagged and disposed of in normal trash. Vines climbing up trees can be cut a few feet from the ground, for convenience, to kill upper portions and then apply systemic herbicide to lower cut portions (see Control Options).


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Last updated:11-Nov-2010