English ivy is a type of climbing plant which can be toxic when ingested. Its scientific name is Hedera helix, and as its common name suggests, it is a native plant of Europe. On two levels the plant may be considered toxic. In the general sense it can be considered poisonous, since it can cause sickness if ingested, and in the botanical sense since it chokes off native plants in areas where it invades.
English ivy is a climbing plant which was brought to North America by the settlers. It is one of the few exotic plants which can grow in shade. A member of the ginseng family, there are five species of the plant. English ivy is composed of woody vines with evergreen leaves. The Hedera helix form of the ivy is the most commonly grown form in the U.S. This ivy is a very hardy plant, able to withstand cold temperatures. It is good for hanging planters and other uses requiring trailing plants.
Toxicity in People
Hedera helix can cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. There are two chemicals in the sap that cause this. Dermatitis is rare but may be severe. The weeping blisters and lesions may not respond quickly to treatment. Dermatitis generally occurs after the plant has been pruned. Saponins are chemicals in the leaves and fruit of the ivy which change into hederin compounds that are toxic to humans. Symptoms of ingestion include coma, laboured breathing, weeping blisters, diarrhoea, erythema, paralysis, vomiting, convulsion and muscle spasms.
Toxicity in Animals
English ivy is toxic to animals as well. Symptoms of ingestion include muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhoea, agitation and paralysis. These reactions may not be long-lasting, however. In one account of cattle which had eaten lots of English ivy vine and were symptomatic, they recovered after three days.
Toxicity to Other Plants
In forests, English ivy can choke out native plants. They climb trees moving up to the canopy and flower. Their berries are eaten by the birds which then distribute the seeds causing the plant to grow in more areas. After growing on trees the ivy can eventually topple the trees through a combination of reducing sunlight that the tree gets and placing more weigh on the tree through its own growth. Additionally, the ivy holds bacteria, which is harmful to maples oaks and elms. Areas of the forest in which ivy dominate have fewer birds and other animals, and rats are the only animals fit for these areas.
English ivy ingestion or dermatitis includes treatments which deal with the symptoms. This may include anti-vomiting agents, Calamine lotion for contact dermatitis and a cool compress for blisters. To deal with ivy which has started to take over part of a forest, there are a few effective methods. Manual removal may be done, chemical application of pesticides or both methods, ideally, can be used to deal with the plant.