English Ivy and Green Hospitality
Is the English ivy covering the unattractive fence in my backyard really an environmental villain?--Perry Pitcher, Seattle, WA
English ivy is everywhere across the North American landscape, largely because it is an attractive, hearty and fast-growing groundcover that can hide other unsightly landscape and structural elements. But the ugly truth about this beautiful but non-native plant is that it aggressively invades new territory, often choking out native plants in the process.
According to the Seattle-based Ivy Off Urban Trees (Ivy-OUT) program, English ivy is quite hazardous to trees it may colonize, weakening the bark by keeping it constantly damp, and blocking sunlight, inhibiting photosynthesis. so, ivy makes trees more susceptible to wind stress and disease. As the vines grow higher and higher, they can eventually choke the life out of their host.
The plant can also overwhelm other native flora, creating "ivy wastelands" devoid of biodiversity. It often spreads out of backyards and into parklands and Other green spaces, both by climbing and through seed dispersal by birds.
Native to Europe, English ivy was first introduced to North America as an ornamental garden vine in the 19th century. Like other invasive non-native species it has no natural predators or pests to keep it in check, and quickly gobbles up habitat.
According to the Department of Environmental Services in Arlington, Virginia, ivy should be removed from any and all trees by cutting the vines at ground level and again several feet up any affected trunks. The remaining ivy should be peeled off carefully. You can also be a good neighbor by ensuring it doesn't spread.
For alternatives, the National Wildlife Federation's website eNature.com enables you to search a free database of native plants by simply entering your state and the type of plant (i.e. vine, wildflower) you seek. Local nurseries can also usually help you choose a good native replacement. CONTACT: Invasive species.gov, www.invasivespecies.gov; Ivy Off Urban Trees, (206) 706-1931, www.ivyout.org.
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