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Hedge Bindweed, with Ivy and the Honeysuckle Common Climbers
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman
One can not venture far into the countryside of Lancashire without coming across at least on e of these species, and, more often than not , in the course of a ramble all three are likely to be encountered. Starting with the ivy , because it is probably the most widespread. This familiar evergreen climber, with its dark glossy leaves, sends out curious root like fibres along the length of its stems. These fibres are adorned with tiny disks at their tips which attach themselves to the bark of trees or to the stones and bricks of buildings, once attached they remain ,with a firm grip, for many years, sending out even more stems which spread and adhere to any surface they encounter.
Nature has deemed that these fibres can transform themselves into true roots when they come into contact with the soil. Ivy produces two forms of foliage, the familiar three to five lobed ones with a triangular outline found in shady aspects or low levels of growth and a less familiar egg shaped leaf with no lobes, that occurs when the plant has gained enough height to receive good light. Ivy is capable of reaching the tops of very tall trees.
When at the summit of a wall or tree the ivy produces flowers formed in cluster of a globular shape, they are short stalked. Although they have little fragrance they do attract butterflies and bees in large numbers and particularly hoverflies.. The flowers are seldom encountered before September, but continue to provide a source of nectar for insects well into early winter. the berries that succeed the flowers turn black when ripe are an important food source for birds particularly wood pigeons and members of the thrush family, the berries being available from late winter well into the spring. the berries produce 2-5 seeds each which are reliant on birds for their distribution by way of their droppings.
The species name helix indicates to wind around and refers to its habit. Ivy has been used as medicine in the past featuring as a component in cough mixtures and for bronchial complaints. In Homeopathy it is used for active thyroid, gall bladder, and for bronchial asthma. Poultices produced by the leaves were employed against rheumatism and sciatica. It was also said to reduce fevers and expel worms. However, ivy is POISONOUS and should never be used in home made preparations.
The second of our subjects is the hedge bindweed a late flowering climber that produces large, white , trumpet like flowers, one of the largest flowers produced by native plants to Britain. The hedge bindweed Calystegia sepium is a hairless perennial that is found in hedgerows, wasteland and along woodland margins. It has a preference for damp soils.
Where established the plant can take over a locality. The white trumpet shaped blooms have no scent, however, they are a rich source of nectar and visited by small insects and long tongued night flying moths. The flowers are from 3.-3.5cm wide. They have 2 green sepals at the base partially hidden by two bracts which do not quite overlap. They may be encountered from July to September.
The tough sinuous stems twist and wind themselves around other plants or any other thing they may encounter. The stems have heart shaped leaves which are arranged alternately and at intervals along its length. These leaves vary in size. The veins may be better observed on the underside of the leaf. The plant can attain the height of over 3m and may become a persistent garden weed.
The genus name of Calystegia derives from two Greek words Kalyx indicating a cup and stege meaning a covering. The species name sepium refers to the prominent sepals. The hedge bindweed as been utilised in medicinal preparations in days gone by , an extract of the sap being used as a laxative. It is not recommended for home made preparations.
Finally we meet with the honeysuckle which binds its way around the twigs of hedgerows before producing the delightful fragrant flowers that fill the evening air with their beautiful scent, during the summer months. The scent is designed to attract night flying moths. The flower head is composed of whorls of up to 12 flowers that are long tubed and have two lips, they vary in colour from white or cream to dark peach and red, often they are a mixture tinged often with yellow. A feature of the flower is the way the stamens protrude when the flower is fully open. They may be encountered from June until October.
The flowers are then succeeded by red berries . The plants have a perennial rootstock. The stems of hedge bindweed may well grow to over 6m long. Honey suckle belong to the genus Lonicera, which is named after the German naturalist Adam Lonitzer 1528-1586.