Ivy flowered in the autumn, its small yellow flowers providing pollen for hoverflies, moths and many other insects well after other flowers had gone to seed. Now, when so many other berries and fruit are long gone, and it is bitterly cold, ivy berries provide birds and small four-legged creatures with vital carbohydrates. (Note: they are poisonous to humans, causing nausea and vomiting if we eat them. Not nice!)
I say ‘provide’, as a parent would a child with its tea. I am not entirely anthropomorphising this plant. Each berry contains several seeds. Each creature that eats these berries absorbs the pith around the seeds, but the seeds travel straight through its digestive system and out the other end. By this time the chances are that the creature will have travelled at least a little distance from the parent plant. By making the berries stuffed with carbohydrate and so attractive to creatures to eat, each ivy plant is maximising the chance that its seed will be spread.
I’ve been puzzled by the ivy that grows at home as its leaves are of two very different shapes. Have you spotted this? I had wondered if I had two different species of ivy. Reading up, I now know that the ‘ivy-shaped’ (!!) leaf is on non-flowering stems. The stems with flowers (and then berries) have leaves that are oval.
Feed your birds – make your own special bird cake:
With the current cold, wet and snowy weather, birds will be hungry. If you have ivy berries, avoid cutting them back unless you have to. You can also make your own special bird feed mix to put out for the birds – and enjoy the chance to get thoroughly messy! Mash some vegetable fat, eg Trex, or lard, with a mix of any of sultanas, currants, oats, crumbled plain biscuits, nuts, and seeds and push into a fir cone, or old yoghurt pot and hang where you can enjoy watching the birds come to your offering. Top tip: attach string for hanging the cone or yoghurt pot before filling with the mix – less messy (by a narrow margin!).
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