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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Lamb

The Wrong English Invasion

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

If you were asked to close your eyes and think of English Ivy (Hedera helix) perhaps an image of an old New England college would be conjured into your mind. The green leaves and vines creeping up the walls may evoke a sense of magic and antiquity in your mind and while the memories and associations we have with this vine may be mystical,

its reality falls very short. In this installment of Invasive Species Highlight we are going to come to terms with the vine that stretches from Canada to the Carolinas, from coast to coast, and despite its invasive nature is still sold as a common ground cover in nurseries across the nation.

What's the problem?

Brought to our shores in the early 1700’s as a lazy-man's ground cover, the problem, as is the case with many invasive species, is the aggressive nature by which the English Ivy spreads and consumes space. The moment it can put down its roots it sets to work on creating a mat of vines and leaves that will cover its host. While English Ivy does not grow at an alarming rate like the Mile-a-Minute Vine, if left unchecked English Ivy will become a very tiresome problem to deal with. As it grows the vines will develop into a nearly impenetrable mat that will climb trees and subsume them as hosts as well as creating a choking layer on the floor preventing new species from developing.

English Ivy’s second weapon is its resilience. The vine has little trouble thriving on nearly any surface from brick to bark; one would be hard pressed to find an inhospitable environment. It is able to survive a lack of water and even abhors a over saturation while maximizing photosynthetic potential by developing its thick mat of leaves.

How to Identify?

Given its iconic leafform, discovering an infestation should not prove to be difficult.

English ivy plants will sport two different types of leaves: younger plant leaves will present three to five points while the leaves on more established vines will present as egg-shaped. Both sets of leaves can range from 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long and 6-12 cm (2.5-5 in) wide and will have a waxy, leathery texture. In late summer to early autumn the vine grows clusters of little white flowers and followed by small black berries that will be eaten by local fauna and then spread even further.

(Used with creative common licensing from Wikimedia)

What's the solution?

Luckily English Ivy is relatively easy to remove, assuming you get ahead of the infestation. They can be pulled up by the roots when the soil is moist and can be left in a pile to swiftly begin decomposition. If you have asthma be careful as you remove infestations as there are cases where pulling up vines can release spores and mold that grows on it causing respiratory issues. If you are dealing with an infestation on a tree one can remove the vines from the trunk leaving the higher parts to die, from there apply herbicide on the roots. After the application of the herbicide you can simply leave the remaining vines on the tree as they will die and fall off in time. If you are dealing with a dense mat on the ground the recommendation is to use a mower or bush hog to remove the dense vines on the top. Once the upper layer has been removed then use herbicides such as Round Up or concentrated vinegar to remove the roots where necessary. The long term solution to prevent the spread of English Ivy is to advocate for a total ban on the planting and sale of this vine.

As always if you are unsure about a plant species in your garden contact a local nursery for help identifying and removing any pests.


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