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Ivy LeaguePosted Wednesday, February 8, 2012, at 3:11 PM
For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
However, I do notice masses of dark green vegetation about town, representing a plant you either like or hate. It's ivy, or common ivy, an evergreen woody climber (or drooper, especially off the bluffs just down from Harding Spring).
"Too well-known to need description," repeat many books. Ivy crawls up and rambles over everything -- trees, telephone poles, rock walls, buildings and fences. Every part of the stem sends out fibers that look like little roots, which produce small disks it employs to attach itself to anything it touches.
In botanical parlance, it is called Hedera helix, and somewhat surprisingly, it's a member of the ginseng family. Hedera derives from a Celtic word, hedra, meaning cord.
The species name, helix comes from a Greek word meaning spiral, perhaps referring to the globe-shaped, somewhat spiraled heads with tiny, inconspicuous flowers.
The name ivy is believed to be from the Celtic, iw, meaning green, referring to the plant's evergreen nature. The plant is native to most of Europe, and undoubtedly arrived in America at an early date of European settlement.
In the classics, it is associated with Bacchus, the god of wine, and was connected with his revels. In old paintings and statues, Bacchus is depicted wearing an ivy wreath. The bruised leaves were formerly simmered in wine to deter the effects of alcohol. In by-gone centuries in England, it was reputed to prevent drunkenness and dissipate the effects of wine.
The bitter leaves were used to induce sweating, and the berries, listed in many books on poisonous plants, if ingested will induce vomiting. The black berries do provide food for birds.
Like many members of the ginseng family, ivy is rich in a group of compounds called saponins. Mostly relegated to historical curiosity in an herbal context, recent research confirms that extracts of the leaf are useful to reduce spasms and induce expectoration associated with inflammation of the respiratory tract and inflamed bronchial conditions; in fact, it is approved for those traditional uses in some European countries.
We are more likely to think of it as a weedy woody vine that kills trees, destroys bricks, peels paint and is a general nuisance. Given its historical use to sober-up a drunk, perhaps Carry Nation introduced it to Eureka Springs.
And that's how rumors get started.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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