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12 Interesting Facts About Boston Ivy

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Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a popular climbing vine that is renowned for its vibrant fall foliage. Though commonly called an ivy, it is actually a member of the grape family and is neither botanically nor historically related to true ivies. This fast-growing vine has been cultivated for over a century to cloak buildings and structures in lush greenery.

Here are 12 fascinating facts about this iconic plant:

1. Boston ivy is not actually an ivy

Despite its common name, Boston ivy is not botanically related to English ivy (Hedera helix) or other true ivies in the Hedera genus. It belongs to the grape family Vitaceae. Its genus name Parthenocissus translates to “virgin ivy”.

2. It gets its name from Boston buildings

Boston ivy owes its name to its popularity in cloaking masonry buildings, especially on university campuses, in the Boston area. The “Ivy League” name for prestigious Northeast US colleges also refers to the Boston ivy that climbs their old brick buildings.

3. It’s native to East Asia

Boston ivy is native to Japan, Korea, and northern and eastern China. It was introduced to the United States in the 1860s for ornamental purposes.

4. It turns vibrant red in fall

Boston ivy is prized for its fall foliage. Its leaves transform into dazzling shades of bright red, orange, purple and burgundy in the fall before dropping. It provides three seasons of interest with glossy green summer foliage, fall color, and prominent winter vines.

5. It climbs using adhesive tendrils

Boston - Beacon Hill 'Ivy, Lamppost and a Rose'
Boston – Beacon Hill ‘Ivy, Lamppost and a Rose’ by David Paul Ohmer is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Unlike English ivy which uses aerial rootlets to cling to surfaces, Boston ivy adheres using small branched tendrils tipped with sticky adhesive disks. This makes it easier to remove from walls without damage.

6. It’s very low maintenance

Once established, Boston ivy needs little care and maintenance. It tolerates pollution, salt, wind, drought and poor soils. It’s also resistant to pests, diseases and deer. Just prune occasionally to control its vigorous growth.

7. It can damage buildings if left unchecked

Boston ivy left to grow unchecked can pry gutters loose, creep under shingles, and ruin paint on wood walls. So it’s best to grow it on masonry or provide a support structure rather than directly on wooden buildings.

8. It has air purifying properties

Boston ivy has been found to absorb air pollutants like carbon dioxide as well as other toxins. Its foliage also helps dampen noise pollution when grown on walls near roads or other noise sources.

9. It has some medicinal uses

In traditional oriental medicine, preparations from the stems and leaves of Boston ivy have been used to treat certain inflammatory conditions and skin ailments.

10. It attracts birds and bees

Boston ivy produces small greenish flowers appreciated by bees and other pollinators. Its dark blue berries are devoured by birds. It also provides shelter for birds and insects.

11. It’s grown on iconic walls

Boston ivy cloaks several iconic walls like Fenway Park in Boston and the outfield walls of Wrigley Field in Chicago. It covers the famous “green monster” wall in left field at Fenway Park.

12. It can be invasive

Boston ivy can be overly aggressive in warm climates. It self-sows easily and its fast growth can allow it to outcompete native species. So it’s best to grow it in controlled bounds.

Boston ivy is a versatile, hardy, low maintenance vine that can create stunning vertical gardens and fall displays. With its striking foliage and colors, distinctive adhesive climbing habit and ease of growth, this Asian native has certainly earned its popularity in North American landscapes.

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