Traditionally, ivy symbolizes an English Christmas, immortalized by the carol, "The Holly and the Ivy." The ivy is the feminine element and the holly is the masculine. Together decoratively, they augur peace, harmony and fidelity in the home. On a parallel plane, Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry, wears an ivy wreath. The ivy-wreathed rod of the ancient Egyptian god, Osiris is another interesting symbol. Ivy represents both virtue and vice.
There are numerous varieties of ivy, although perhaps the most famous version is English ivy (Hedera helix), a member of the Araliaceae family. Ivy is native to Europe, but exists in many other parts of the world, including North America and Asia.
Other varieties of ivy include the large-leaved Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis) and the small-leaved heart leaf ivy (Hedera helix scutifolia).
Ivy grows better in the shade than in full sun, and prefers moist, well-drained soil. Periodic fertilizing encourages stable growth once the plant settles. Besides gracing walls, fences and trellises outdoors, ivy excels in hanging baskets or as topiaries.
Among the strengths of the ivy plant is its ability to work against soil erosion and slippage. This happens when the roots of the ivy plant dig deep into the soil and forge a veritable root security system in the ground. The aerial roots of the ivy plant are also formidable as it climbs virtually any surface, particularly walls and trellises.
Poison Ivy Pros & Cons
The dreaded poison ivy grows throughout the United States except in desert areas and at very high altitudes. Toxicodendron radicans is the climbing variety and Toxicodendron rydbergii is the non-climbing variety. They both cause skin rashes through urushiol oil in the leaves, vines and roots of the plant. The oil is very potent and remains active virtually forever, so it is possible to get a rash even from brushing against clothes or tools that contain it. Get immediate medical attention to treat a poison ivy rash.
Birds and animals such as goats feed on poison ivy with no apparent problems. Native Americans used it medicinally.
Sometimes mistaken for poison ivy, the deciduous vine known as the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has several common names, including American ivy, woodbine and ampelopsis. It is a member of the Vitaceae or grapevine family. The five-leafed Virginia creeper is distinguishable from the three-leafed poison ivy, although both can cause skin rashes.
Ivy House Inn
Ivy lends its name to the Ivy House Inn in Casper, Wyoming, a three-story bed and breakfast. Reportedly its former owner, Mrs. White (who passed away in 1995 at the age of 93), and two Siamese cats, among others, still reside in spirit in the halls of the Ivy House Inn and elsewhere at the property.