Cymbalaria muralis - Ivy-leaved Toadflax

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Lamiales - Family: Plantaginaceae

Cymbalaria muralis, Ivy-leaved Toadflax

Although an introduced alien species, Ivy-leaved Toadflax has had nearly 400 years to make itself at home in Britain and Ireland, and few people are aware that it is not a truly native wildflower.

Identification

This trailing hairless perennial plant has lilac two-lipped flowers with two yellowish bulges on the lower lip. Its curved spur is unusually short for a toadflax. Flowers are 9 to 15mm across and each is borne on a long stalk growing from a leaf base.

It is easy to see how this plant spreads so rapidly: the fruit capsules develop on long stalks that gradually recurve towards the growing substrate and tuck their oval seeds into any likely places where the plant can get new toe-holds.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax, closeup of flowers

The long-stalked leaves of Ivy-leaved Toadflax are palmate (sometimes but not always shaped rather like the leaves of Ivy!) with 3 to 7 lobes and ranging between 2.5 and 5cm across. Leaves alternate along the thin creeping red-flushed stems, which root at nodes whenever they find a suitable crevice. It seems meaningless to discus the 'height' of a plant that is equally at home on vertical and horizontal surfaces, but Cymbalaria muralis is low growing and the flowers are rarely more than 10cm away from the substrate.

Distribution

Native to the Mediterranean region and thought to have been brought to London with imported marble slabs from Italy in 1640, Ivy-leaved Toadflax was planted in gardens and has since escaped and become naturalised and very common throughout Britain and Ireland except for some parts of northern Scotland.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax growing on a wall

Now very common throughout most of northern, central and southern Europe, Cymbalaria muralis has also become naturalised in many other parts of the world including North America, where its invasive qualities have resulted in a widespread distribution.

Habitat

Cymbalaria muralis is mainly found growing in and over walls, piles of rubble and similar places where its roots can get a grip in sparse soil that does not remain wet long enough for other plants to take over.

Blooming Times

The first flowers of Ivy-leaved Toadflax usually appear April and continue through to at least the end of September. In sheltered southern locations flowers can be seen all year round except in the harshest of winters.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax on a road bridge, Wales UK

Uses

Bare walls are made more attractive when colonised by Ivy-leaved Toadflax, but it is rarely necessary to plant these wildflowers because seeds, complete with a starter-pack of organic growing medium, are usually delivered by birds. The fruits are capsule-shaped which grow on long stalks that gradually recurve towards and into a likely place where the plant can get a new 'toe-hold'. Bees gather nectar from the flowers, and in so doing they contribute to pollination.

Etymology

Cymbalaria, the genus name, means 'like a cymbal' - a reference to the flower shape. The specific epithet muralis is a Latin adjective meaning 'of walls', which is precisely where this wildflower grows.

The pictures of Ivy-leaved Toadflax shown on this page were taken in Wales UK during June.


Volume 1

We hope that you have found this information helpful. If so we are sure you would find our books Wonderful Wildflowers of Wales, vols 1 to 4, by Sue Parker and Pat O'Reilly very useful too. Buy copies here...

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