Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix) is a spreading and climbing vine.
  • It is a very hardy plant growing in a wide variety of habitats and soils.
  • It readily roots along the stem, growing from discarded cuttings.
  • The berries are attractive to birds, its main dispersal method.
  • It is an aggressive invader, capable of toppling large trees.
  • Mulching and herbicide treatment are control methods but may need repeating.
  • It is now thought that much of what is called English Ivy in Australia is actually Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica).

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Ivy (Hedera species) are evergreen climbing vines in the Ginseng family, and are garden and house plants, and environmental weeds in temperate to sub-humid areas of Australia. Although English Ivy (Hedera helix) is present and weedy, the closely related Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica) is far more common as a weed (at least in South Australia and Victoria). Until June 2020, English Ivy (Hedera helix) was (and still is in many areas), the name incorrectly applied to Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica), despite being present as a weed for about 70 years. The correct name (taxonomy) for Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica) has not been uniformly applied across Australia, so here we use the common name English Ivy to refer to both English and Irish Ivy. For further information please see: Brodie et al. (2000),  McAllister & Marshall, (2017); VicFlora (2016).

English Ivy has are dark green leaves, waxy, somewhat leathery, and arranged alternately along the stem. English and Irish Ivy have many recognised cultivars with 100s if not 1000s of leaf leaf forms different from the wild species size and shape. The juvenile leaves that are the most common leaf shape are 3-lobed or occasionally 5-lobed, which climbs by means of adventitious roots (roots produced from the stem). After reaching a certain size, and usually when it grows tall enough to get into the sun, the plant can assume its mature form, with un-lobed, oval leaves. Mature leaf branches and stems can now only produce mature leaves, and cuttings from the mature form remain mature. The adult leaves are only produced when the plant flowers on the upper parts of the plants (rarely when growing along the ground), and are not lobed. Intermediate matures leaves can show lobbing at the base of the branch, but not at the top of the branches with flowers.

Umbrella-like clusters of small, greenish-white flowers appear in autumn if sufficient sunlight is available.

The berry-like fruits mature in spring and are purplish to black with a fleshy outer covering enclosing one to a few hard, stone-like seeds (GISD 2005).

For further information and assistance with identification of English Ivy contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

White, Green

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

English Ivy occurs in temperate to subtropical climates where it grows in wet sclerophyll forest or disturbed rainforest, coastal areas, salt marsh edges, and other upland areas, especially where some soil moisture is present, on a variety of substrates. It will grow in variable light conditions but prefers shade, damp soils, and a moist, cool environment (GISD 2005; Henwood & Makinson 1999-2007).

Are there similar species?

All, Ivy species are similar in appearance with wild species separated on based on leaf-shape and minute hairs on developing leaves. As many (1000s) cultivars (garden varieties), have been developed from ivy, especially English and Irish Ivy, over hundreds of years, leave's shapes have been greatly altered from wild types (shape), to the point that different species have overlapping and varying leaf sizes and shapes, making separating these taxa using leaf shape problematic to redundant. Identification is based  on leaf hairs and use of these the cryptic characters is challenging. Algerian ivy (Hedera algeriensis) has also been mistaken for English Ivy. For a comprehensive overview and taxonomic treatment of ivy species and information on cultivars, see: McAllister & Marshall, (2017), and for species in Australia see: Brodie et al. (2000); eFlora 2021; VicFlora (2016).

English Ivy is similar to the native Wonga Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana), which is a woody climber in forests, but its leaves are a different shape and its stems do not cling to the bark.

The native Common Silkpod (Parsonsia straminea) climbs tree trunks with aerial roots like English Ivy when young, but its leaves are not lobed. Mature plants lose this feature and climb by twining.

The weed Cape Ivy (Delairea odorata) has slightly similar lobed leaves but they are brighter green and the plant climbs by twining (DPI 2004; Eurobodalla Shire Council undated).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Native ecosystems: 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. It excludes the native vegetation and results in a loss of biodiversity. The dense growth and abundant leaves, which spring from the stems like small umbrellas, form a thick canopy just above the ground and prevent sunlight from reaching other plants. Vines climbing up tree trunks spread, surround and cover branches and twigs, preventing most of the sunlight from reaching the leaves of the host tree thus reducing photosynthesis. It covers growing tips, and thus disrupts the tree's growth, first on branch tips and eventually at the tree top. The impacts on photosynthesis and growth may also result in damage to the root system, since the tree can no longer provide the necessary level of nutrition to the roots. Loss of host tree vigour, evident within a few years, is followed by death a few years later. The added weight of vines makes infested trees susceptible to blow-over during storms (DPI 2004; GISD 2005; Swearingen & Diedrich 2006).

Human impacts: It also has poisonous foliage and its flower pollen can irritate eyes. The leaves and berries of English Ivy contain the glycoside hederin which could cause toxicosis if ingested. As symptoms can include gastrointestinal upset and diarrhoea this feature may aid effective dispersal by birds, ensuring consumed seeds pass quickly through their digestive systems (DPI 2004; GISD 2005; Swearingen & Diedrich 2006).

How does it spread?

English Ivy can reproduce vegetatively, from stem segments dumped or transported by floods. Stems trailing over the ground will root at the nodes (Eurobodalla Shire Council undated). Seed is largely spread by birds (Metcalfe 2005).

What is its history in Australia?

It is unknown when or how English Ivy was introduced into Australia. As it is widely grown as a ground cover and to cover walls and fences (Csurhes & Edwards 1998) it was probably introduced for ornamental purposes.

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Physical control: English Ivy vines growing as groundcover can be pulled up by hand, with some difficulty. Remove all stem parts from the ground as they will take root and regrow. If removal from site is difficult ensure vines are placed off the ground (on branches or a platform) to dry out and decompose. Alternatively, seal in strong bags and dispose as rubbish.

Mulching may be an effective choice for smaller infestations when herbicides are not appropriate. Cover the entire infestation with several inches of mulch. This may include wood chips, grass clippings, hay or similar degradable plant material. Shredded or chipped wood may be the best option since hay and grass may potentially carry weed seeds. Covering the area with cardboard may improve the effectiveness and longevity of this method. The mulch should stay in place for at least two growing seasons and may need to be augmented several times. Mulching can also be done following herbicide treatment.

Mechanical control: Vines climbing up into the tree canopy are more difficult to manage and should be cut to a comfortable height to kill upper portions and relieve the tree canopy.

Chemical control: Because it is an evergreen vine and remains active during the winter, herbicide applications can be made at any time of year as long as temperatures are above 12 or 15 degrees Celsius for a few days. Repeat herbicidal treatments are usually necessary and follow-up monitoring should be conducted to evaluate the success of treatments (DPI 2004; GISD 2005; Swearingen & Diedrich 2006).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au.

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

During the juvenile or non-reproductive stage, English Ivy is typically a ground cover. The leaves of the adult or reproductive form are usually a lighter green, thick, ovate (egg-shaped) to rhombic in shape and have less prominent whitish veins. During the adult stage, English Ivy produces terminal clusters of greenish-white flowers in the autumn, which are pollinated by wasps, bees, and flies. The following spring it produces a dark purple or black, berry-like fruit (GISD 2005).

For a growth calendar see the Victorian Department of Primary Industry (2004).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

English Ivy has been recognised as a serious environmental weed in several states of Australia. It has naturalised throughout south-eastern Australia from the central and northern tablelands of New South Wales to the Southern Lofty region of South Australia. In Victoria, it has invaded dry and wet sclerophyll forests, woodlands, riparian vegetation, rocky outcrops and warm temperate rainforest (Csurhes & Edwards 1998).

Where does it originate?

English Ivy is native to central Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa (Csurhes & Edwards 1998; Swearingen & Diedrich 2006).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Hedera helix

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Hedera helix L. subsp. helix

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Ivy, Irish Ivy

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