This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The present distribution of Ground Ivy is the North Temperate Zone in Europe, Siberia, Western Asia, as far east as the Himalayas, and in America it is an introduced plant. It is not found with any other plants in ancient deposits. In Great Britain it is more or less universally distributed, but does not grow in Cardigan, Stirling, S. Perth, North Ebudes, and in the W. Highlands in Ross only, and not in the Northern Isles. In Northumberland, moreover, it ascends to 1300 ft.
Photo. B. Hanley - Ground Ivy (nepeta Hederacea, Trev.)
Every hedgerow is covered in spring with the trailing, creeping Ground Ivy, which carpets the ground under the hedgerows along highways and in fields. It grows on sloping banks, covering wide spaces. It is also to be found in woods, though it prefers a hedge-bank in the open facing the south and the sun.
Ground Ivy, as the second Latin (and English) name implies, has the habit of the Ivy, the trailing habit, rooting at intervals, with suberect flower-stalks. The stem, which is smooth or hairy, is square and slender, and branched. The leaves are egg-shaped, opposite, on long leaf-stalks, kidney-shaped, scalloped, veined, the leaf-stalks furrowed below.
The flowers are purple or bluish-violet, or white or pink with spots, in whorls, three on a flower-stalk, with a general involucre of awl-like bracts or leaflike organs. The calyx is tubular, with short curved-back teeth. The corolla is gaping, with an erect upper lip, blunt, notched. The lower lip is larger, spreading, in three segments, with three purple spots. The creeping runners put forth in summer flower the next year, and survive the winter. The nutlets (4) are oval and contained in the calyx.
Ground Ivy is about 6 in. to 1 ft. high in flower. The flowers are in bloom between March and May. The plant is perennial, propagated by division.
The flowers are proterandrous, and the larger are hermaphrodite, the smaller female, with a tube 61/2 - 8 mm. long, which is 11/2 - 21/2 mm, wide in front. In the former it is 9-16 mm. (or 14-16 usually), and 21/2 - 41/2 mm. wide in front. The tube is lined below with stiff hairs. As many as 86 per cent of the flowers have been found to be female in one locality, and 24 per cent later on; in a second year in the same district the proportion was 50 per cent and 28 per cent. The honey in the female flowers can be reached by all humble bees, and the widened mouth in the longer flowers enables all but Bombus terrestris to obtain honey. The larger flowers are visited first, and frequently cross-pollination is ensured by the hermaphrodite flowers.
Visits are paid by Bombus, Apis mellifica, Anthophora, Osmia, Nomada, Andrena, Halictus, Bombylius, Rhingia, Eristalis, Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris brassicce), and the Humming-bird Hawk Moths (Macroglossa fuciformis) and M. stellatarum.
The nutlets are smooth, and when ripe fall out around the parent plant.
Being a sand-loving plant, Ground Ivy delights in a sand soil, but it is also found on clay soil
The plant is often galled by Aulax Glechomce and Cecidomyia bursuria. A fungus, Puccinia glechomatis, attacks the leaves. A beetle, Longitarsus abdominalis, a moth, Coleophora albitarsella, and a Homopterous insect, Eupteryx pictus, are found upon it.
Nepeta, Pliny, is from Nepi, a town in Italy, whilst the second Latin name refers to its ivy-like, trailing habit.
Ground Ivy is called Alehoof, Allhoove, Allhose, Alliff, Bird's-eye, Blue Runner, Cat's-foot, Deceivers, Devil's Candlesticks, Fat Hen, Foalfoot, Folesfoth, Gell, Gill, Gill Hen, Gill-go-by-ground, Ground-avey, Ground Ivy, Hayhofe, Haymaiden, Hay-maids, Hedge-maids, Heihow, Hen and Chickens, Heyhove, Hove, Jenny-run-ith-ground, Jill, Lion's Mouth, Lizzy-run-the-hedge, Maiden-hair, Mould, Nip,
Robin-run-the-hedge, Rob-run-up-dyke, Run-away-Jack, Runnidyke Tudnoose, Tunhog.
Alehoof means that which will cause ale to heave or work. " The women of our northern parts", says Gerarde, "do turn the herb ale hovoc into their ale." Gill-ale is a beverage made from this plant. "The leaves were formerly thrown into the vat with ale to clarify it and to give it a flavour. This was called Gill-ale, Ground Ivy being named Gill or Gill-crept-by-the-ground in some places." The French quitter means to ferment beer. With Rue it was supposed to confer fine vision. Ground Ivy was also supposed to be associated with the evil one, and called " Devil's Candlesticks ".
The leaves are bitter and aromatic, hence their use in ale. They have a strong, peculiar smell. This plant was considered a corroborant, aperient, and detergent, and was used for laxity, debility, for ulcers, the lungs, and the blood. Drawn up the nostrils, juice from an infusion was used for headache. The white specks in horses' eyes were said to be cured by this added to groundsel and plantain.
Essential Specific Characters: 253. Nepeta hederacea, Trev. - Stem procumbent, creeping, leaves cordate, crenate, flowers blue, in axillary whorls, secund, 3-4, calyx-teeth awned.