|The holly and the ivy, When they are both full grown, Of all the trees that are in the wood, The holly bears the crown.|
|From the old English Christmas Carol, “The Holly and the Ivy” (anon.)|
If you want to stay sober during a Christmas party, try wearing a wreath of ivy! The ancient Romans believed that ivy prevented drunkenness, and that is why Bacchus, the god of wine, is always depicted wearing ivy leaves. By contrast, the ancient Celts used to dress a boy in holly and a girl in ivy as symbols of fertility during the midwinter festival. Ivy (Hedera helix) is native to Europe and northern and central Asia. In Japanese, it is known as ki-zuta, meaning “tree ivy,” or fuyu-zuta, meaning “winter ivy.” The plant climbs by means of fibers that grow from its stems. Producing a kind of cement, they cling to walls, rocks and trees, and if they find a crack in the bark the fibers become true roots and draw nutrients from the tree. Ivy lives for a long time, and can reach 20 meters or more in height. Curiously, the plant only flowers when it runs out of support, for example, at the end of a branch. Unlike the usual three- or five-pointed leaves, flowering stems produce simply shaped leaves (as shown above). In late autumn, clusters of tiny green flowers provide nectar for the last of the bees, and the black berries that follow in winter and spring offer food for woodland birds.