by Miles Benson

Lovely and seductive, this leafy, easy-to-grow and innocent-looking charmer has been around a long time.  It is an inexpensive decorative plant found inside homes almost everywhere.  Outside, it crawls the walls of elegant buildings on the campuses of renowned universities, engulfing them in deceptive green majesty (think ivy league).  It now runs loose in the wild across the nation.

It is, in fact, an invasive species, a noxious weed imported from Europe that has escaped control of not only of the federal government but the 50 state governments.  And “escaped” is precisely the term commonly used in scientific papers to describe the ivy’s spread across America.  Both federal authorities in the U.S. agriculture department, and officials in state agriculture departments acknowledge – usually off the record – that this is an escalating problem that they are just unable to deal with effectively.

Never mind the damage the ivy does to stucco and exterior painted surfaces of homes.  Never mind that it crowds out wildflowers, ferns and tree seedlings.  Never mind that it provides protective refuge for Norway rats in large numbers.  It’s a tree-killer.  The evidence is easily apparent even to inexpert eyes.  Around the nation’s capital, in pricey neighborhoods like Georgetown and public spaces like Rock Creek Park, and in the suburbs along the Potomac, the ubiquitous creepers surround and climb and cripple and strangle even the largest pillars of our shrinking canopy.  The evergreen ivy causes tree bark and rot problems and blow-overs in windstorms because of the “sail effect” of the vines’ mass.  Oh, and the mature vines produce berries believed poisonous to some birds species.

This is an issue that has remained mostly beneath our radar.  Although some conservation-minded people who care deeply about natural habitat describe English Ivy as “evil menace” I doubt the plant is motivated by malice.  It’s just behaving as a natural life form that happens to be in the wrong place, carried there by human error and commerce.

Some, but few, feeble attempts have been made to address the error. The states of Washington and Oregon actually have taken administrative steps to ban the propagation and sale of various strains of English ivy by nurseries and garden supply businesses.  But neither state has launched a full bore eradication effort, or require homeowners or anyone else to eliminate existing beds and vines. Mississippi has classified the plant as a noxious weed without banning sales.

To be sure, I am just tossing one more issue atop a mountain of urgent problems such as jobs, poverty, disease, health care reform, pollution, income inequality, political dysfunction, nuclear proliferation, jihads, terrorism, population growth, and global warming with its apocalyptic cohorts climate change, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and accelerating species extinctions, to name a few.  But this one item, this Hedera Helix, is something you can individually take action against, real hands-on action, the satisfying kind of action of actually and legally uprooting and destroying an interloper that lives within your reach and grasp.  How often to you get the chance to do that?

Certain death. English ivy girdles this 50+ year old tree.