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The battle against English ivy

English ivy winds around a tree by Mill Creek Falls in McKinleyville, California. Photo by Kelly Bessem.

By Kelly Bessem

HSU student Tim Scully pulls ivy from the ground near HSU’s Natural Resources Building while waiting for other HSU Natural Resources Club members to gather for Saturday volunteering events. The area around the building was restored with native plants many years ago and lies in stark contrast to the opposite side of the pavement still completely smothered by a non-native plant, English ivy.

Scully is an environmental management and protection major and president of the HSU Natural Resources Club. The Natural Resources Club has spent countless Saturday mornings clearing ivy from areas along the Northern California coast.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re just the ‘ivy club’ because that’s all we do,” said Scully. “We remove ivy like 30 to 50 percent of the time.”

Several Humboldt based coalitions petitioned on Feb. 15 to ban English ivy from being legally sold in California. These coalitions are rooted in over 20 groups, including government agencies, businesses and conservation agencies such as the Humboldt No Ivy League and the Environmental Protection Information Center.The Environmental Protection Information Center pointed out in a recent press release that Washington and Oregon have already classified English ivy as a noxious weed. This petition hopes to compel the California Department of Food and Agriculture to follow suit.

English ivy winds around a tree by Mill Creek Falls in McKinleyville, Calif. Photo by Kelly Bessem.

The Environmental Protection Information Center found that government agencies in California spend thousands of dollars each year removing the plant, yet nurseries and garden centers within the state are still allowed to sell it. Cutting ivy from invaded areas is intensive, time consuming work.

According to the Weeds Gone Wild website that is headed by the National Park Service, English ivy is endemic to Europe and is known for its fast growth rate and ability to adapt to adverse growing conditions. It creeps and climbs among a plant community by sending shoots up from an underground rhizome stem and by producing an extensive amount of seedy berries. Due to these characteristics, ivy usually needs to be removed from an invaded area multiple times.

“It’s super invasive and hard to completely get rid of,” said Scully. “You have to keep returning to sites.”

English ivy is used for home gardens and urban spaces because it provides a reliable and attractive ground cover. Its flowers and fruits are enjoyed by some pollinators and birds. It also aids in carbon sequestration and air purification in areas previously without greenery.

Kevin Maurer is an HSU geography major who volunteers with the Natural Resources Club.

“I think that pulling English ivy from native trees should be the only way we deal with it; I don’t think we should be banning it,” Maurer said. “I’ve heard that ivy has a pretty good reputation for being an air-cleaner… also as a carbon fixating plant. This definitely outweighs the detrimental effects.”

Though English ivy may be beneficial in certain applications, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests native alternatives such as Alumroot. For the Pacific Northwest specifically, the Vancouver-based environmental nonprofit Evergreen suggests the plant sword fern.

Comparison of the unrestored north side (top) and restored south side (bottom) of 17th Street on the HSU campus. Photo by Kelly Bessem.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife already includes English ivy on its “Don’t Plant Me!” list. English ivy reduces native biodiversity, adds weight and wind sensitivity to trees and doesn’t control soil erosion because of its shallow roots.

Tom Wheeler is the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center and is involved in moving the petition forward.

“The first step in fighting against an invasive plant is to not make the situation worse. Prohibiting the sale of ivy is a common sense measure to protect California’s unique places,” said Wheeler.

The petition sprouted from the efforts of a volunteer group known as the Humboldt No Ivy League. The volunteer group hand-pulls ivy from Humboldt County State Parks every weekend.

said Kim Tays, Humboldt No Ivy League member.”It’s time for our state leaders and land managers to take a hard look at the serious threat that English ivy poses to California’s biodiversity,”  “If we fail to get the English ivy problem under control, we are going to see tremendous damage done to our important native plant communities, including our Sitka spruce and redwood forests.”

For additional information about the petition, contact the Environmental Protection Information Center’s Tom Wheeler at tom@wildcalifornia.org or the Humboldt No Ivy League’s Kim Tays at kimkat067@gmail.com.

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