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What is a California Ivy?

Amber Karlins
Amber Karlins

California ivy is a climbing plant that can be cultivated indoors or outdoors in many climates. Its scientific name is hedera helix, but its more common names include needlepoint ivy, glacier ivy, branching ivy, sweetheart ivy and English ivy. The plant has lobed leaves and produces tiny flowers and berries in the spring and summer. Caution should be used if the plant is grown as a houseplant, however, as the berries and leaves can be toxic for pets.

California ivy thrives in many climates and features green leaves, each with five rounded lobes. The veins of each leaf are a lighter green color and the stems occasionally have a reddish color. In the spring, California Ivy produces small pink flowers, and in the summer it produces small red berries.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

California ivy rarely gets to be taller than about 12 inches (30 cm), but its vines can stretch more than 6 feet (about 1.8 m). The plant is not sensitive to humidity and grows successfully indoors and outdoors. It is best, however, not to place it in direct sunlight in areas with high heat because this can burn the plant. California ivy can grow successfully in most soils, is comfortable with shade, and because it is an evergreen plant, it can survive the difficulties of a winter climate. It is a rapidly growing plant and can quickly overtake its environment if it is not carefully and regularly pruned. As a result, many areas strongly discourage planting California ivy outdoors.

California ivies are often used as houseplants, as they require minimal upkeep and can be purchased in many different sizes. The ivy can also be raised to function as a topiary or wreath. Initially, California ivies should be watered twice a week; once the plant is well established, however, water should be withheld until the plant is just shy of wilting. Because they grow so rapidly, California ivies need to be fed at least once a month as well.

There is a potentially serious downside to using California ivies as houseplants: they are poisonous to cats and dogs. The berries are the most poisonous, but the leaves can also cause considerable damage. Raising the California ivy in hanging pots can reduce the risk of poisoning in homes with pets. For those who want to take additional precautions — particularly those who have cats that have an easier time accessing hanging plants then their canine counterparts — it is helpful to spray water on the leaves and then dust them with cayenne pepper. The taste can help discourage animals from munching on them.

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