No Ivy Leaguer
© 2007 J. McDougall
All of us have noticed as we’ve driven along in certain areas, yards and multiple yards of trees covered with the climbing vine, English Ivy. There are even places in Camano Island State Park and Camano’s Cama Beach State Park – one site visible along West Camano Drive within Cama’s boundaries – that have been invaded by the plant.
I think we perceive that the ivy planting was well-intentioned – perhaps a part of a past landscaping or enhancement effort. But soon it started pushing outward from its original point of introduction; at first growing along the ground, then just taking off and running rampant – climbing trees and pressing on over other plants – any and all items in its pathway.
Some feel the ivy was introduced more than a century ago because the vines reminded people of a landscape left behind when they emigrated to this part of the planet. Knowledgeable nursery staff would tell you English Ivy is formally dubbed Hadera helix and is a member of the Ginseng family, native to Eurasia and North Africa. It’s an attractive plant – has smooth, shiny evergreen leaves – and therefore has been widely cultivated. It definitely likes the cool moist climate of the Pacific Northwest having no natural enemies here.
Looking at the small plant in a diminutive nursery container, it is not readily obvious – hardly even conceivable at all – what the plant is capable of. Once English Ivy does escape – begins its move across the landscape and climbs trees – the plant competes for water, nutrients, and sunlight with its supportive tree or plant framework – definitely negatively impacting the latter’s healthy growth. And it can add such weight to a tree that it is far more likely to topple in a windstorm. Of course, a marvelous pre-ivy natural wildlife habitat will then be gone as well – basically choked out – and will have simply disappeared. Except for rats, that is, for about the only wildlife that seems to abide within its cover are rats who find the greenery makes for fine nesting sites!
There are areas in our state where English Ivy has so vigorously out-competed other native, natural vegetation that the habitats so devastated have become vast monocultures – places where only the ivy lives. Some have described these spots as “botanical deserts”. Others claim the areas have been overrun by the “green plague”. And as if all of the above is not enough of a sad commentary, English Ivy produces berries that can be poisonous.
Is this a plant to admire, nurture and love? Seemingly botanical evidence is not in its favor.
Most of us, as gardeners, cannot completely guarantee that a plant such as English Ivy will never escape from planting places in the future and wreak its havoc. Sure, we’ll keep an eye on it – prune it and contain it – but what if we sell the ivy-planted property at a future date? Will the new owner be as knowledgeable, watchful and as good a steward? Possibly not.
Probably it is best, therefore, to avoid planting English Ivy in the first place and help contain its possible eventual harmful spread. Clipping the vines at ankle and shoulder height on trees can help save the trees, and grunt-work removal is recommended for the rest, which can be a very difficult task. Of course, dumping the clippings and plants elsewhere is not recommended. It’s called “invasive” for good reason – for the “dumpees” can continue to propagate and spread. Be aware that this plant is now on the Washington State Noxious Weeds List and its control is required by law.
Written by Pat Nash
Beach Watcher Class ’94.
Consultation: local weed control program coordinator Susan Horton www.island.wsu.edu/weeds/index.htm
Published August 2007