Over the last few years I’ve kept track on the passing of a big, old apple tree. When I first ‘knew’ it, it had some leaves and an apple or two – and there was some ivy on its trunk and some boughs.
Then, the leaves didn’t appear one spring a few years back. Since then, the ivy (Hedera helix) has grown to engulf the dead tree.
Now, I know there are ivy-haters out there. I’ve run into them in the past and know that the most extreme feel they need to be out and about ‘rescuing’ trees, otherwise ivy won’t stop until it has felled every last one.
In one case someone told me that he kept a saw in the boot of his car and would use it to cut through ivy stems so that the climber wouldn’t kill its supporting tree. I tried to put the case for ivy, but worried that he might use the saw on me if I didn’t move on sharply.
The ailing apple tree was an opportunity for its ivy. As it sickened, its canopy thinned and the ivy flourished in the full light.
In time the weight of the ivy over-balanced the dead tree, and it began to shift as its decaying roots lost grip. It took a storm last winter to finally bring tree and ivy down.
Since then, it’s been fascinating to watch as the ivy has adjusted to its new orientation. The plant has been able to re-set its bearings and respond accordingly.
Now there are flowers at the tips of its uppermost stems. Ivy heads for the sun and then forms flower heads at the limits of its reach.
They’re in bloom now and will be until late November, providing an excellent source of food for all sorts of insects, like flies, bees, wasps and butterflies.
At the downed tree today they were out in force, warmed by some afternoon sun. Few wasps this year, at least here in Pembrokeshire, but it was good to see few late butterflies – a comma, a small tortoiseshell and a couple of red admirals, both as good as new.