The Holly and the Ivy…

Shropshire Botanical Society Newsletter - Autumn 2000 - page 14

Sarah Whild


At the risk of being too seasonal, it is good to have something to record in the dark months of winter. Below are details of two sub-species of ivy, the distribution of which is very uncertain because they are not always recorded separately. Also, there are notes on holly, following on from the introduction regarding yellow-berried holly. There is a hybrid holly, called Highclere Holly Ilex altaclerensis, that is normally planted, but is also found naturalised in some woodland margins and old Victorian gardens left to go wild.


Ivy - family Araliaceae

Hedera helix ssp. helix (Common Ivy) This is the most common sub-species of ivy in Shropshire; it is native and common in woodlands especially on more alkaline soils. It is distinguished from the other native sub-species by three diagnostic features, all of which should be observed in the specimen. The trickiest part is looking at the hairs - a x20 lens is invaluable here. The hairs are stellate which means they are star-shaped, with lots of little hairs projecting from one point (see below).

Do remember that ivy produces different shaped leaves on the flowering shoots!

Hedera helix ssp. hibernica (Atlantic Ivy) Atlantic Ivy is the second native sub-species, not to be confused with Irish Ivy, H. 'Hibernica', which is a cultivar and has very large leaves and rarely climbs. Both native sub-species are climbers. Atlantic Ivy is an oceanic taxon, becoming more common towards the west coast. It is probably rather under-recorded in Shropshire.

Common Ivy Hedera helix ssp. helix
Atlantic Ivy Hedera helix ssp. hibernica
Hairs under under-side of new leaves whitish and points projecting in all directions Hairs on under-side yellowish and all points lying flat, parallel to leaf surface.
Leaves usually less than 8cm wide, often with 'marbling' along veins. Leaves usually more than 8cm wide, more-or-less uniform dark green.
Leaf lobes usually lobed more than half way to base. Leaf lobes usually lobed less than half way to base.


Holly - family Aquifoliaceae

Ilex aquifolium Holly The native species of holly, with dark green glossy leaves, red berries in the winter. There are horticultural varieties of the species, sometimes variegated.

Ilex x altaclarensis Highclere Holly Usually planted where it occurs, but being a fertile hybrid, sometimes growing from bird-sown seed. Cross between I. aquifolium and I. perado with many cultivars grown for their variegation. True Highclere holly is not variegated.

Holly Ilex aquifolium
Highclere Holly Ilex altaclarensis
Leaves ovate to elliptic Leaves usually less than 2x as long as wide
Leaf margins undulate and spinose (although leaves produced above the 'browse' line may be smooth and less spiny. Leaves flat and either spineless or with a few spines at the tip of the leaf, all pointing forward.
Berries usually red, but very rarely with orange or yellow fruit. Berries usually red, but sometimes pink.

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