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English ivy

English ivy used as a ground cover.

English ivy is a versatile plant that functions as both a ground cover and a vine.  Its evergreen foliage provides interest year round.  This plant can grow aggressively and it considered invasive in some areas.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Hedera helix

All Common Names:

English ivy

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Ground cover,
  • Vine

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Container,
  • Foundation,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk

Size Range:

  • Large plant (more than 24 inches),
  • Low-growing plant (under 6 inches)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Late winter,
  • Early spring,
  • Mid spring,
  • Late spring,
  • Early summer,
  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall,
  • Late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Creeping,
  • Vining

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size and Method of Climbing (vine); method of spreading (ground cover)

As a ground cover, English ivy is a low growing plant, just a few inches high. It is a trailing-rooting ground cover.  Trailing-rooting ground covers have trailing stems that spread out from a central root system.  These stems spread out horizontally over the ground and can root where they come in contact with the soil.  New shoots will be formed at the point where rooting occurs.

As a vine, it  can grow 60 to 80 feet.  It is a clinging vine, climbing by use of aerial rootlets.  Clinging vines attach themselves directly to a surface by means of holdfasts (adhesive discs) or by small aerial roots.  This type of vine grows best on a flat surface, such as stone, masonry walls and wood.

Plant Care

Grows in full sun to full shade, but plants exposed to full sun in winter may experience winter damage.
Moist, well-drained soils.  Fairly salt tolerant.  Tolerates both alkaline and acid soils.

Disease, pests, and problems

Prone to leaf spots (both bacterial and fungal), aphids, mealybug, scale and mites.  Spider mites can be a serious problem on English ivy.
English ivy is an aggressive plant and is considered invasive in some areas.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Europe and Russia.

Leaf description

Leaves are simple, alternate and evergreen.  The shape varies depending on whether the plant is in the juvenile phase or the adult phase.  Juvenile leaves are 3 to 5 lobed and is the typical shape seen.  Adult shoots have leaves that are more oval or rhomboid in shape.  When used as a ground cover, English ivy tends to produce only juvenile shoots.  When it climbs vertically it is more likely to produce adult phase leaves. 

Flower description

Flowers are produced only in the adult phase (see leaf description above.)  The flowers are green and held in round clusters that are easily spotted, but not particularly ornamental.

Fruit description

Fruit are black berry-like drupes, produced only when the plant flowers (adult phase).  Seeds are spread when birds eat the fruit and disperse the seeds.  Fruit should NOT be eaten by humans.

Cultivars and their differences

Thorndale English ivy (Hedera helix 'Thorndale'):  A very hardy cultivar with larger, deep green leaves.

Wilson English ivy  (Hedera helix 'Wilson'): A hardy cultivar.

Location of Hedera helix (English ivy) at the Arboretum