Is there a use for ivy?

Another job that I decided to tackle last weekend – I was trying to get as much done as I could before a busy week and the possibility of more rain – was getting the ivy out of the hazelnut trees. 

Ivy is a weed that I’m really not crazy about – if it’s happy where it’s growing (and it usually seems to be when I have to deal with it), it climbs up into trees and other plants, latches on with little aerial roots (they look almost like suckers to me) and slowly strangles them to death. It’s very difficult to pull off the plants… and even more difficult to make sure it’s all gone.

Ivy under and in the hazelnut trees

It had done a good job of climbing into one tree in particular – the only way to remove it was to get the ladder and have G steady it while I climbed up and slowly cut out sections of it, bit by bit, making sure I didn’t drop any on his head. I finally removed the last bit that had managed to put out those little aerial roots and was able to carefully pull the rest out of the branches.

I’m not composting it – I’ve heard that any bits of stem have the potential to grow into a new plant and I had visions of building a garden bed with the compost and having small ivy plants emerging from it. Perhaps this is an exaggeration…but I decided the best thing to do would be to bag it up and take it to the green waste pile at the tip.

Ivy’s aerial roots in action

I also find ivy an irritant; it makes my skin itchy and I lasted two hours this time (after taking hayfever medication) before I had to stop working because I was sneezing so much. And I’m glad I was wearing thick gardening gloves, because there were all manner of creepy crawlies hiding amongst it. The biggest was a rather fat huntsman spider… I didn’t get a photo of him/her because I was too busy jumping backwards in shock.

But the spiders – and the huge snail colonies and the other creepy crawlies – made me wonder if there is actually a use for ivy. As I mentioned earlier this week, one of the Gardener’s Question Time podcasts I was listening to as I worked had a question about weeds, with one of the panellists saying they’re plants we haven’t found a use for yet.

One of the many pieces I removed; this one has plenty of aerial roots

I’ve also read in Anna Pavord’s The Curious Gardener that ivy can provide a source of food and shelter for butterflies. But this is in Britain – does that apply equally well in Australia? Or would I be providing a potential haven for snakes and other less desirable garden inhabitants?

I don’t know the answer to this yet; I will definitely have to do some more research into this… and also some research into plants that could provide the benefits of ivy (the food and shelter) without the problems. I’ll keep you posted… and all suggestions are very welcome!

More ivy clinging to the trunk of one of the hazelnut trees
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