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What is Boston Ivy?

Tom Raley
Tom Raley

Boston ivy is a deciduous broadleaf vine indigenous to Japan and China, but now is common worldwide. This type of ivy is an aggressively growing plant — vines can grow to lengths of up to 50 feet (about 15 meters) or more. During a single growing season, Boston ivy can grow as much as 6 to 8 feet (about 1.8 to 2.5 meters). Boston ivy firmly attaches itself to structures made of wood or masonry. While this may make it a popular wall covering, especially on garden walls, it can be very difficult to remove without causing damage to the structure.

Growing best in semi-shade to full sunshine, Boston ivy is a hardy and drought resistant plant that is difficult to kill. The ivy, which actually is a member of the grape family, requires moderate moisture and little maintenance. Trimming the vines about once a year can usually keep them under control.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

One of the advantages to Boston ivy is that it requires no support structure in order to climb. The vine is self-attaching, using suction-cup-like tendrils, and can climb wood, masonry or the bark of a tree. This allows the vine to cover entire exterior walls of homes. Some homeowners also consider the thick leaves to be an energy saver, as they can shade the home from the heat of direct sunlight.

The leaves of Boston ivy are typically reddish in color during the spring months, then turn green during the summer months. In the fall, the leaves once again turn a reddish color. The vines may produce small flowers as well as clusters of dark blue berries, which can attract bees and a variety of birds.

Certain precautions should be noted when introducing Boston ivy into a yard or garden. The plant is poisonous to both humans and animals. In addition, if allowed to grow into trees or other vegetation, it often can take over the area and smother other trees or vegetation. While very attractive on a home, Boston ivy can cause structural damage as it ages and can clog gutters if not properly pruned. Pruning the vine can prove especially difficult when growing on a two or three story structure. The presence of the ivy can also lead to increased problems with pests and various rodents.

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