English Ivy vs. Bostin Ivy – What’s the Difference?

The English and Boston Ivies are a common sight in local gardens as they provide fantastic ground and wall cover with little maintenance. They cover displeasing walls, provide privacy, and fill empty spaces with green life.  

While both of these ivies share common traits as climbing vines, you will need to know the differences if planting any of these into your garden.

The main difference between the English Ivy and Bostin Ivy is that the former is an evergreen perennial, whereas the latter is a deciduous perennial. The leaves of the English Ivy remain green and attached throughout the year. This contrasts with the Bostin Ivy, where the leaves change color from green to red in the fall, eventually falling off during winter for dormancy.

In this article, I’ll go over the key differences between the English and Boston ivies so that you can make an informed purchasing decision.

What Are the Differences Between English and Boston Ivies

They Belong to Different Plant Families

The first distinction between the English and Boston Ivies is that they’re under two different plant families. 

The Hedera helix (English Ivy) falls under the Araliaceae family, consisting mostly of woody plants with simple or compound leaves arranged in an alternate pattern. Other common names for the English Ivy include the Common Ivy and European Ivy.

These plants are native to most of Europe and Western Asia. The English Ivy is common in spaces such as street fences, walls, tree trunks, and neglected homes.

On the other hand, the Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Bostin Ivy) falls under the Vitaceae family, the same group as the grape family. Hence, the Bostin Ivy technically isn’t actually a true ivy because it’s not part of the Hedera genus. However, the “Bostin Ivy” name is an easy reference to the dominant ivy covered in many Boston City buildings. 

You may also hear the Bostin Ivy referenced as the Grape Ivy, Japanese Ivy, and Japanese Creeper.

The English Ivy in the background and Boston Ivy (red) at the front

Each Have Different Leaf Colors Throughout the Year

A significant distinction between the English and Boston Ivies is how they transition their leaf colors throughout the year.

The English Ivy is an evergreen plant that retains its green color regardless of the season.

In stark contrast, the Bostin Ivy responds to the changing weather seasons.

It shows off its diverse shades of greens in summer, including vibrant lime and emerald greens.

Once it reaches the cooler season of Autumn, the outlines of the Bostin Ivy begin to show tints of red. The redness then starts to spread out through the entire leaves, which is when the Bostin Ivy outshines its surrounding plants.

As winter arrives, the leaves begin to crisp, lose their color, and fall off their stalk. What is leftover are the remains of the vining stalks and stems that are still attached to the walls.

When the weather warms up for spring, the Bostin Ivy produces new red leaves before transitioning back to its greens for summer. During this period, the vine yields small clusters of dark blue berries.

English Ivy (left) and Boston Ivy (right)

A side-by-side comparison between the leaves of the English and Boston Ivies shows that:

  • The English Ivy has more visible light-colored veins. They can also be variegated where the lighter greens are towards the edges and tips of each lobe.
  • The Bostin Ivy has more uniform colors throughout its leaves but will show shades of red and green as it transitions between seasons.

So if you’re looking to add some splashes of red into your garden, go for the Bostin Ivy. Otherwise, the English Ivy gives consistent greens throughout the year. 

The English Ivy Is More Destructive Than the Boston Ivy

Boston Ivies are considerably more gentle climbers and less destructive than the English Ivies.

Boston Ivies use their tendrils with adhesion discs that stick on surfaces. When left to grow over time, the tendrils can be difficult to remove without damaging the paint on the walls.  

The residue of the Boston Ivy.

The good news is that it’s not as aggressive as the English Ivy, where it digs its aerial roots into surface cracks. Brick and mortar homes are susceptible to the destruction of the English Ivies as they sneak into gaps and potentially damage house foundations.

The English Ivy is widely recognized as an invasive and fast-growing weed in many countries as it spreads contagiously. When left unattended for an extended period of time, they can be challenging to remove from surfaces.   

Many professional gardeners and landscapers do not recommend growing ivies against house walls. But if you cannot resist, choose the Bostin Ivy as it’s easier to upkeep.

What Are the Similarities Between English and Boston Ivies

They’re Both (Very) Fast Growers

The English and Boston Ivies are rapidly growing vines, each potentially growing up to 9 feet long yearly.

These vines dominate their habitat by overtaking resources during the warmer seasons of spring and summer, where light is plentiful. In the forests, aggressive ivies choke ground plant life and climb on trees, blocking sunlight for the shorter flowers.  

But during the cooler seasons of winter, the Bostin Ivy enters into a state of dormancy. They might look dead during this period, but their semi-permanent attachments to buildings ensure they continue to spread once the warmer weather permits it.

The English Ivy continues to thrive regardless of the season.

Common Uses for Landscape

Their fast-growing habits of the English and Boston ivies mean that landscapers often use them for coverage purposes.

Whether this is coverage for ugly walls, empty ground space,  fences, trellises, old stumps, and so on, both ivies provide an attractive green cover that would otherwise be an eyesore.

These ivies produce long vining trails, making them an attractive plant to be grown in hanging baskets to provide a cascading waterfall effect. For indoors, they can be grown in pots with the support of a trellis.

The English and Boston ivies are great for the plant beginners because they’re not picky with their watering needs, provided they’re in well-draining soil. One can have fun pruning these vines as they quickly grow back. In fact, regular pruning encourages fuller growth on the draping stems.

They Both Produce Toxic Berries

The English and Boston Ivies grow toxic berries for human and pet consumption.

According to Pethelpful.com, all parts of the English and Boston may cause a sore tongue, lips, and mouth for cats and dogs. Other veterinary sources provide that these ivies may also cause discomfort in the stomach, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Bostin Ivy berries produce oxalates (a naturally-occurring compound in plants) that is the common cause of poisoning when consumed by humans. Similarly, the English Ivy contains a compound called the Saponins that cause gastric irritation when ingested.

As such, caution should be taken if you have pets and children as these ivies can cause illness if mistakenly eaten. You may want to rethink growing these ivies to avoid accidental consumption.

Final Words

The English and Boston ivies look quite similar with their vining appearance and three-lobed leaflets.

The significant differences between the two are:

  • The English Ivy grows more aggressively than the Bostin Ivy
  • The English Ivy is capable of causing greater damage to house walls and foundations
  • The English Ivy retains its leaves throughout the year, whereas the Bostin Ivy loses its leaves during the inter.
  • The English Ivy remains green in all seasons, whereas the Bostin Ivy turns red in the fall and back to green towards the summer

If choosing between these two ivies as houseplants, go for the Bostin Ivy as it provides beautiful changing colors in its lifetime with less potential damage to your house.

Fascinated by the Ivies? Check out my other comparison post between the English Ivy and Poison Ivy!


Garden Guides
Better Homes & Gardens

Image Credits

Bri Weldon
Forest and Kim Starr

Plantician Guy (Mike)

Hi I'm Mike, a self-proclaimed plantician (an invented profession to describe a plant enthusiast). Based in Sydney Australia, I enjoy the great outdoors and the greenery things around the garden, in particular, indoor climbing plants.

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