Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 20
Issue 3
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume20/issue3/art-01.html


Aneta Czarna
Katedra Botaniki, Wydział Ogrodnictwa i Architektury Krajobrazu, Uniwersytet Przyrodniczy w Poznaniu, Poland



In old cemeteries in the Wielkopolska region, 1124 localities of Hedera helix (European ivy) were found. In 863 of the cemeteries, flowering specimens of this species were observed. The populations are clearly of anthropogenic origin. The large number of its localities proves that it was popular in cultivation. In the past it had a symbolic meaning.

Key words: chorology, symbolic meaning, Wielkopolska, Polska.


Hedera helix L. (European ivy, Araliaceae), an evergreen climber, grows slowly (less than 1 m/year) and is a woody chamaephyte and phanerophyte. Flowers are produced on specimens more than 10 years old, climbing high by means of aerial roots and, thanks to this, having access to direct sunlight.Flowering specimens are usually found in old parks, old cemeteries or gardens.

Ivy has been cultivated as an ornamental plant since ancient times. In Poland initially it was cultivated in parks near palaces and manor houses and in cemeteries as a symbolic plant, and later in gardens and urban parks, as a grateful ornamental plant. Currently it is less commonly planted in the ground, and more often it is grown in pots.

Hedera helix is an ideal ground-cover plant and climber. It is perfect for covering tree trunks, pergolas, walls of buildings, and fences of various types and heights, but it should be planted on their northern or north-western sides. It can be planted under walls of historical buildings: castles, monasteries, manor houses, and old tenements or apartment houses.

Vegetative specimens are found mostly in broad-leaved forests, but also on rocky slopes and in gardens or cemeteries, while flowering and fruiting specimens are primarily in former manor parks, old cemeteries, gardens, and sporadically in broadleaved forests.

In natural conditions, Hedera helix grows in Europe, in the Caucasus, and Asia Minor. In Poland it is classified as a native species, most common west of the Vistula. It prefers sites characterized by high humidity [4]. In the wild it is usually found in oak-hornbeam and alluvial forests or beech forests, less often on cliffs and calcareous rocks. It is a tolerant species, growing on both slightly acidic and alkaline soils, but it prefers moderately moist and humus-rich soils. It can grow well not only at its typical sites, i.e. humid and shaded forests, but also at dry and sunny sites and on rock debris. It is negatively affected by long periods of hot weather. Tolerant to air pollution with sulphur dioxide and particulates. Effectively self-sown in open woodlands and forests with a disturbed herb layer, while less effectively in forests with dense herbaceous vegetation.

Ivy was a subject of cult and beliefs. It symbolizes faithfulness, friendship, and eternal life [13]. Early Christians regarded ivy as a symbol of immortality, so they laid corpses on its leaves, and planted ivy on graves. This custom has persisted to this day, so many spectacular specimens can be found in cemeteries. In Germany, to this day, ivy is considered to be a symbol of joy, sociability, and friendship.

Hedera helix has been classified in Poland as a protected species for a long time, on the basis of the Regulation issued by the Minister of Education on 29 August 1946. It was always under strict protection, but the Regulation issued by the Minister of Forestry and Wood Industry on 28 February 1957 about plant protection has introduced a specific note: only flowering specimens were protected. According to the Regulation of the Minister of Environmental of 11 October 2001, also vegetative specimens were strictly protected. Currently, since 2014, on the basis of the Regulation of the Minister of Environmental of 16 October 2014, Hedera helix is no longer included in the list of protected species.

This study aims to present localities of flowering, climbing and trailing specimens of this species in old cemeteries (no longer used for burial) in the Wielkopolska region. Disseminated only thanks to birds from cemeteries, parks or gardens to forests.


Field research was conducted in 2142 old cemeteries in 2005–2015 in the whole Wielkopolska region. The borders of Wielkopolska have been delimited according to the publication “Distribution of selected species of threatened plants in Wielkopolska” [28].

The results are presented in a table, separately for the herb layer, shrub layer, and the tree layer (flowering specimens). Each cemetery was treated as one locality.


In old cemeteries in Wielkopolska, 1124 localities of Hedera helix were found (Tab. 1). These include 863 cemeteries where flowering specimens were observed (Tab. 2). The species can be regarded as naturalized, as it shows a high capacity for sexual reproduction. The populations are clearly of anthropogenic origin and ivy is present there thanks to human activity. The large number of its localities proves that it was popular in cultivation. In the investigated cemeteries, H. helix is often represented by many flowering specimens.

Table 1. List of localities of Hedera helix in old, cemeteries (no longer used for burial) in the Wielkopolska region (PDF file)
Table 1 PDF

Table 2. Frequency of Hedera helix in individual layers of vegetation in old cemeteries in Wielkopolska
Number of cemeteries
% of cemeteries
Tree layer
Shrub layer
Herb layer

The cemeteries with particularly abundant specimens can be threatened by ill-planned management of old trees and occasional cases of destruction of old ivy specimens by private persons.

Hedera helix for a long time has been of interest to dendrologists, so it is well-studied and often described in the literature. Of special interest were primarily flowering specimens, as in Polish climatic conditions they were regarded as rare [6, 16, 18, 21, 24, 25]. The survey of old cemeteries in Wielkopolska shows that the species is very common, represented by many flowering specimens.

European ivy, as an evergreen climber, ornaments its vicinity all the year round. It is the only member of the family Araliaceae found in Poland. The family is represented primarily in tropical areas, particularly in Asia [10]. Ivy has 2 growth forms: juvenile and mature. Transition from one form to the other often takes place when the plant reaches the top of a wall or another support.

Many earlier publications reported on natural localities of flowering and fruiting ivy in Poland, summarized by Boratyńska [2]. She listed 144 localities in the western part of Polish Pomerania, central Poland, the submontane zone, and the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland (Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska). Such distribution confirmed the limit of the species in the sexual phase proposed by Bożek [3], which slightly differs from that suggested by Olaczek [19]. The latter author believed that the limit of distribution of fruiting specimens crosses central Poland. The limit is difficult to determine precisely because the localities are scattered and it is unclear whether they are of natural origin or anthropogenic. However, in the east, flowering ivy is rarer, and the limiting factor is climate [2]. In the west and south of Poland it is more frequent [28].

The maps (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) showing the distribution of Hedera helix in ATOPL squares for flowering and vegetative specimens in Wielkopolska are very similar. Almost none of Hedra helix in eastern Wielkopolska is due to a small number of old cemeteries and not to climatic conditions.

Fig. 1. Hedera helix distraction in the old cemeteries of Wielkopolska – vegetative specimen

Fig. 2. Hedera helix distraction in the old cemeteries of Wielkopolska – will prove generous

The high frequency off Hedera helix in old cemeteries, especially of flowering specimens, is particularly noteworthy. The species was planted mostly because of its symbolic meaning when the cemeteries were created, i.e. before World War II. In cemeteries it often covers nearly 100% of the herb layer, and sometimes in the tree layer it climbs on all trees. It is quite expansive, introduced to the United States, Canada, Hawaii, Russia, Australia and Oceania, India, Brazil, and South Africa, where it is an invasive species [14].

The distribution of fruiting ivy in the former Szczecin Province (NW Poland) is described by Ćwikliński [6], who found it in 152 localities. Stachak et al. [22] in the eastern part of Szczecin Lowland found flowering specimens near 23 churches and in 31 cemeteries. Their next survey [23] covered the western part of Szczecin Lowland, west of the river Oder (Odra) and Szczecin Lagoon (Zalew Szczeciński). In that area, flowering and fruiting ivy was observed in 31 villages. In the city of Szczecin, Nowak [17] found 52 localities of Hedera helix, distributed in 13 districts east of the Oder (outside cemeteries and parks). In gardens and near institutions in the districts of Szczecin that are located west of the Oder, Zieliński [27] recorded 197 sexually reproducing specimens.

In the city of Wrocław (SW Poland), flowering specimens were found inlocalities, mostly in old cemeteries [26]. In the city of Poznań, in one district, Grunwald [12], flowering Hedera helix was recorded in 609 localities. Most of the specimens were in gardens, usually climbing on fruiting trees: Malus domestica and Pyrus communis. Thus this city (the capital of the Wielkopolska region) has the largest number of documented localities of flowering ivy.

Within the borders of Poland, flowering of this species in the wild is rare, and fruiting is even rarer. Many authors reported on flowering and fruiting specimens of Hedera helix after its protection was limited to flowering specimens [e.g. 1, 5, 7–9, 11, 15, 20]. Previously, natural localities of fruiting specimens were known from the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, and flowering specimens were also found in the lower Vistula valley in Pomerania, near Puławy and Pieniny Mts. [10].

The species produces flowers and fruits mostly in gardens, on walls, in parks, and cemeteries. Its fruits can ripen already in November, but this is rare and observed only in the south of Europe. Usually they ripen in spring (in March or April) of the following year.

Its invasive character is due to the ease and rate of dispersal, lack of pests, and resistance to low temperatures. It is treated as a problematic species because when growing on the ground it forms dense carpets, which hamper the growth of native plants. When climbing on trees, ivy grows higher and higher, successively causing death of lower branches, as it limits their access to sunlight.

Woodlands invaded by Hedera helix in the USA are ivy deserts. The species also included in the list of weeds of the states of Washington and Oregon. In contrast to observations from Europe, American publications provide evidence on a negative effect of ivy on trees, informing about weaker growth of trees strongly covered by H. helix and about the higher risk of tree breaking or uprooting during rainstorms, gales, or snowfall [14].


Hedra helix is the only member of the family Araliaceae in Poland, the only climber with evergreen leaves, the only one whose fruits ripen in the following year, and the only one flowering in tree crowns. My results show that this species is present in about 50% of the investigated cemeteries, and flowers in nearly 40%. It often climbs on all trees in the studied cemeteries.

Hedera helix flowers and fruits more often at the sites where it had been planted. In forests it is disseminated by birds and usually does not flower. Ivy is not ‘out of fashion’ but lost its symbolic meaning. It is still cultivated in gardens, propagated as an ornamental. It is naturalized outside its natural range, becoming a problematic invasive species there.


The presented studies have been financed by the NCN grant No. NN 304 204 937


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Accepted for print: 10.07.2017

Aneta Czarna
Katedra Botaniki, Wydział Ogrodnictwa i Architektury Krajobrazu, Uniwersytet Przyrodniczy w Poznaniu, Poland
Wojska Polskiego 71C
60-625 Poznań
email: aneta.czarna@up.poznan.pl

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