Plant Profiles Ivy Leaved Toadflax

Cymbalaria Muralis or the Ivy-leaved Toadflax, By Any and All Names, A Rock-Favoring Survivor

The Ivy-leaved toad flax has a proper place in botanical science within the family scrophulariaceae, under the order Lamiales, within the genus Cymbalaria, in the species C. muralis. However, Europe’s Mediterranean region is the area credited as the birthplace of the hardy bloom. Just as people and families disperse over time, arriving from one place and migrating to others, flowers disperse too, carrying their charms to new lands and acquiring new friends and names in the process. So it is with the purple Ivy-leaved toad flax.

Names That Create A Picture   

Cymbalaria’s usual and highly descriptive name, ‘Ivy-leaved toad flax,’ also it’s less used nickname, ‘Kenilworth Ivy,’ make obvious comparison of Cymbalaria’s green, multi-lobed leaves to those of ivy.

Those ivy-like lobes, which may range from three to seven in number—five lobes are often mentioned by observers and historians—are generally slightly less than one inch to two inches in length and of a rounded shape that can appear heart-like. The latter fact makes it fitting, perhaps, that Cymbalaria is referred to as ‘the plant of the Madonna,’ in Italy.

Other examples of the interesting nomenclature attaching itself to Cymbalaria during its trek from Italy and its neighbors in the 1700s all the way to the British realm —the flower was inducted into England’s Chelsea Botanic Gardens as a gift from Italy—allude to the purple perennial’s ladle-like shape. These include Aaron’s Beard and Pedlar’s Basket. The quirky ‘Rabbits,’ another Cymbalaria nickname, undoubtedly refers to the tendency of the flower’s rounded back leaves to stick upright as a pair when the flower is turned downward, giving the slight flower—the bloom tends to top off at a maximum of two inches—the appearance of having rabbit ears.  

Names That Laud Hardiness

It’s true; the Ivy-leaved toadflax appears dainty, as well as just a little funny. Those rounded leaves look like soft purple butterfly wings, while the flower’s yellow bisected center has the appearance of two fried eggs. Also, there are those two purple leaves that stick right up when the flower bends over, turning the plant into an endearing cartoon bunny. Looks, however, are deceiving.

 More dips into that large basket of Cymbalaria-acquired nomenclature retrieves names such as ‘Mother of Millions,’ ‘Mother of Thousands’ and ‘Oxford-weed,’ all undoubtedly referring to Cymbalaria’s amazing ability to thrive and proliferate. Other Cymbalaria names, like ‘Climbing Sailor,’ ‘Wall Rabbits’ and ‘Creeping Jenny’ allude to Cymbalaria’s preferred home.

Interestingly, although Cymbalaria is referred to as a ground-covering perennial—it has been known to favor footpaths— it actually prefers rocks and walls. The stalks, which are green and often more than 100 inches in length with roots appearing every few inches, tend to turn towards the light, as many plants do, before fertilization. Afterwards, Cymbalaria turns away from the light, an act known in the botanical world as turning negatively phototropic. Cymbalaria’s fertilization is normally accomplished by bees.  Afterwards the plant’s seed pod is turned inwards and pressed into a darkened space, such as a wall crevice.  Using this manner of dispersal Cymbalaria can quite quickly overtake a wall or colonize a rockery. For this reason some gardeners look on Cymbalaria with disfavor, choosing to eradicate it. While gardeners of the ’get rid of it’ school find Cymbalaria easy to uproot, they often find it germinates equally easily from even the smallest amount of leftover seeds.

Fortunately, there are others who choose to view Cymbalaria proliferation as positive, lauding the attractive draping effect of its blooms. Herbal lore suggests Cymbalaria has a positive side too, citing its efficacious use in diabetes and scrofula. Cymbalaria is also used in salads and to make a fair, if impermanent, yellow dye. Beyond any medical, edible or decorative use, however, Cymbalaria is most of all a prodigious survivor.