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name applied loosely to any trailing or climbing plantclimbing plant,
any plant that in growing to its full height requires some support. Climbing plants may clamber over a support (climbing rose), twine up a slender support (hop, honeysuckle), or grasp the support by special processes such as adventitious aerial roots (English
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, particularly cultivated forms, but more popularly a designation for Hedera helix, the so-called English ivy, and some related species of the family Araliaceae (ginsengginseng
, common name for the Araliaceae, a family of tropical herbs, shrubs, and trees that are often prickly and sometimes grow as climbing forms. The true ginseng (Panax ginseng
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 family). Native to Europe and temperate Asia, English ivy is a woody evergreen vine, usually sterile, whose berries contain the poisonous principle hederin. Grown in numerous varieties, it is the most popular house and wall vine. The Boston, or Japanese, ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata, of Japan and China) and the American ivy, or Virginia creeperVirginia creeper,
native woody vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) of the family Vitaceae (grape family), tall growing and popular as a wall covering in the temperate United States.
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 (P. quinquefolia, of North America), are similar species of the family Vitaceae (grapegrape,
common name for the Vitaceae, a family of mostly climbing shrubs, widespread in tropical and subtropical regions and extending into the temperate zones. The woody vines, or lianas, climb by means of tendrils, which botanically are adaptations of terminal buds.
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 family). Both are sometimes called ampelopsisampelopsis
[Gr.,=looking like a vine], botanic name for woody ornamental vines of the genus Ampelopsis, but in horticulture also traditionally applied to the Virginia creeper, Boston ivy, and others of related genera of the family Vitaceae (grape family).
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, a name usually reserved for another related genus. Kenilworth ivy, Cymbalaria muralis, of the family Scrophulariaceae (figwortfigwort,
common name for some members of the Scrophulariaceae, a family comprising chiefly herbs and small shrubs and distributed widely over all continents. The family includes a few climbing types and some parasitic and saprophytic forms.
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 family) is common to old ruins in Europe; it is often cultivated as a ground cover. Ivy was sacred to Bacchus and was associated with various pagan religions. It was formerly hung as a tavern sign in England. Ivy is classified in the division MagnoliophytaMagnoliophyta
, division of the plant kingdom consisting of those organisms commonly called the flowering plants, or angiosperms. The angiosperms have leaves, stems, and roots, and vascular, or conducting, tissue (xylem and phloem).
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, class Magnoliopsida. The ginseng family ivies are in the order Umbellales, the grape family ivies in the order Rhamnales, and the figwort family ivies in the order Scrophulariales.
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From the Christmas tree to the kissing bough, decorations made of greenery have adorned our Christmas celebrations for centuries. Of all the evergreens used to represent the season, ivy's connection to Christmas is perhaps the most obscure. Known to botanists as Hedera helix, ivy has enjoyed a long association with the Christmas season and, before that, with various pagan myths and celebrations.

Ancient Beliefs and Customs

Evergreen plants, such as ivy, holly, and pine, stay green all year round. For many ancient peoples, this special property converted these plants into reminders of the promise of rebirth and eternal life. The pagan peoples of northern Europe decorated their homes with evergreens such as ivy for their winter festival, Yule. Perhaps they wished to honor and imitate ivy's triumph over the cold and darkness, for the plant not only remains green during winter but also bears fruit during this harsh season. The ancient Egyptians associated ivy with Osiris, a god who died and was resurrected. To the Greeks ivy symbolized Dionysus, the god of wine. The Greeks told a legend that explained this connection. A nymph had once danced herself to death at the feet of Dionysus in a frenzy of adoration. In recognition of her devotion the god changed her body into the ivy plant, which casts an adoring embrace around all it encounters.

Further to the south, the ancient Romans also decorated their homes with greenery during their winter festival, Saturnalia. In addition, they exchanged branches of ivy, holly, and other evergreen plants as symbols of their good wishes for the upcoming new year. Ivy also became the symbol of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus. Wine sellers in ancient Rome sometimes used ivy as a symbol of their trade. A bush or bunch of evergreens, usually ivy or box, tied to the end of a pole was a generally recognized symbol of a wineshop. Pliny the Elder, a famous scholar of ancient Rome, believed that consuming ivy berries before drinking wine or ivy leaves with one's wine could prevent drunkenness. Modern researchers, however, have discovered ivy to be toxic when ingested in large enough quantities.

Medieval Beliefs and Customs

As literacy was uncommon in the Middle Ages, people continued to use ivy and images of ivy or other greenery to signify a tavern or wineshop. In Britain the decorated pole used by the Romans became known as an alepole or an alestake. Long after lettered signs replaced these old icons, many British taverns retained related names, such as The Ivy Bush or The Greenwood Tree. Ivy not only represented wine, but also was believed to cure drunkenness. Likewise, imbibing from a bowl of ivy wood was thought to cancel out the effects of alcohol.

Some folklorists believe that holly and ivy represented the male and female principles in nature to pagan peoples of northern Europe, and that these early beliefs lingered on in the songs and folklore of later eras. Many medieval and Renaissance songs and Christmas carols tell of a rivalry between holly and ivy, in which holly represents masculinity, and ivy femininity.

In early Christian times, the Church resisted the pagan custom of making seasonal decorations out of greenery. The sixth-century second Council of Braga forbade Christians the use of green boughs in home decoration. As time went on, however, Christianity adopted the holly and ivy of pagan winter celebrations, bending their significance to Christian ends. The clinging ivy plant became a reminder of the soul's dependence on God. The words to the Christmas carol "The Holly and the Ivy" depict another Christian reinterpretation of these seasonal symbols. Due to its continuing association with drunkenness, however, some Christians thought it disrespectful to incorporate ivy into Christmas decorations.

Later Beliefs and Customs

Many diverse, and sometimes conflicting, beliefs and customs concerning ivy have been recorded during the last two centuries. Because it often grew in cemeteries, ivy acquired an association with death. Some people believed it was therefore unlucky to bring ivy plants indoors. Its persistent association with drunkenness also fueled this belief, especially in continental Europe. Nevertheless, because of its decorative potential, ivy became a favorite houseplant in the Victorian age (see also Victorian England, Christmas in).

In the "language of flowers" (a set of meanings attributed to flowers and plants which became popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), the encircling vines of the ivy plant represented fidelity and undying love. Many attributed magical properties to the plant, especially the ability to reveal the identity of future mates. In England an ivy leaf dropped into a dish of water on New Year's Eve, covered and left until Twelfth Night, could reveal one's own fortune for the upcoming year. If the leaf remained green, one would enjoy good health, but if the leaf spotted, illness threatened. Overall deterioration of the leaf signaled death.

Traces of the old association with femininity and the battle of the sexes echo through the folklore associated with ivy. According to some, holly dealt good luck to men, while ivy bestowed good luck to women. As late as several hundred years ago, English folk customs still connected competing figures known as the "holly boy" and the "ivy girl" with a number of wintertime observances. Ivy, often alongside holly, continued as a symbol of Christmas festivities during the nineteenth century. The Victorians wove it into kissing boughs, greenery swags, and other seasonal adornments, and embellished many a Christmas card with its image.

Although less popular than in Victorian times, ivy has gently entwined itself around the edges of contemporary Christmas celebrations. Images of this ancient seasonal favorite still trim our Christmas cards, wrapping paper, and other holiday decorations.

Further Reading

Segall, Barbara. The Holly and the Ivy. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1991.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003


traditional symbol of faithfulness. [Plant Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 175]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. any woody climbing or trailing araliaceous plant of the Old World genus Hedera, esp H. helix, having lobed evergreen leaves and black berry-like fruits
2. any of various other climbing or creeping plants, such as Boston ivy, poison ivy, and ground ivy
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


A language with a more pleasant syntax than Perl, tcl or Lisp. It has nice features like low punctuation count, blocks indicated by indentation, and similarity to normal procedural languages. This language started out as an idea for an extension language for the editor JOE.

An experimental interpreter by Joseph H Allen <jhallen@world.std.com> was posted to alt.sources on 28 Sep 1993.
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