. . . and the ivy

Five things you may not have known about the ivy in your Christmas wreath.

1. Ivy (Hedera helix) has two different kinds of leaves on two types of shoots that are so different they have sometimes been mistaken for separate species. Firstly, it has palmate five-lobed juvenile leaves on creeping and climbing stems, and then unlobed arrow-shaped adult leaves on fertile flowering stems much higher up in the plant.

2. Ivy is an invaluable late-season nectar source; its flowers are visited by over seventy species of nectar-feeding insects,

3. Ivy provides year-round shelter; growing on brick walls, it has been shown to have a measurable insulating effect. The green leaves respire through the winter, producing carbon dioxide and heat: you are always going to be warmer hidden in the ivy than you will be outside in the cold.

4. Ivy is a winter lifeline for wildlife The purple-black fruit ripens in late winter, and are an important food for at least sixteen different species of birds. According to the RSPB, ivy berries contain nearly as many calories as Mars bars, gram for gram.

5. Ivy’s symbolic use extends at least as far back as celebrations of Dionysian and Bacchanalian rites in Ancient Greece and Rome. In fourteenth-century England, ivy was still associated with alcohol and it was used to identify public houses.

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