What is Swedish Ivy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Swedish ivy, known to botanists as Plectranthus australis, is a trailing vine in the mint family. It has been popularized as a houseplant and was especially common in home d├ęcor of the 1960s and 1970s. While viewed as somewhat old fashioned in some regions of the world today, Swedish ivy is still available for use as a houseplant, and it can also be grown in the garden. Nurseries may carry seedlings, and people can also propagate it from cuttings. Cuttings usually root very easily and many people with existing mature plants have some cuttings to spare.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

This plant has glossy green leaves that may be edged in white or variegated in some cultivars. The leaves are small, with scalloped edges. Small tubular flowers will be produced by healthy plants. Left unshaped, Swedish ivy tends to get very leggy, but it can be pinched back to encourage a fuller, more bushy growth habit with lots of branches rather than trailing stems. The pinched sections can be used to start new seedlings, or discarded.

Despite the name, Swedish ivy is not a true ivy. It is in an unrelated plant family, and gets the name from the trailing growth habit rather than a biological relationship. Swedish ivy does not climb walls and other plants by putting out roots and doesn't cause the damage many people associate with ivy plants. It is also not Swedish; as the botanical name suggests, it is native to Australia, and is adapted for very warm climate conditions, unlike the climate of Sweden.

In the garden, Swedish ivy can be grown in containers or baskets or directly in the ground, where it will sprawl and make an excellent groundcover. The plant needs loamy moist soil and full sunshine. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones 10 and 11 are usually suitable for this plant. Swedish ivy has a faint aroma, betraying its relationship to other mints, and can be pleasing as a massed planting, border, or edging plant.

Indoors, this plant needs bright, indirect light. It can do very well hanging next to a window, and should not be placed in a drafty, dry, or unusually hot area of the house. It is a good idea to periodically rotate a pot or basket of Swedish ivy to encourage the plant to grow evenly, as houseplants tend to develop a lopsided appearance unless all sides are equally bathed in light. Some of the trailing stems may break off if the plant is handled roughly, but the plant will recover.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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