Ivy Invasion

Dec 13, 2013

Red bricks covered with ivy have long been seen as a part of Virginia’s charm, but scientists in Richmond warn the vines are taking over – posing a threat to other plants in the state, and they want citizens to do their part in getting ivy under control.

It’s hard to go a day in Virginia without seeing ivy—on the forest floor, tree trunks, and buildings.  The plant is so prevalent that you might assume it’s native to the state, but Natural Heritage Director Tom Smith says ivy, like many other plants, is an import.
“As colonists came here they wanted to bring things along with them that reminded them of home.”
Over the past 50 years, Smith says, ivy has become a problem plant, moving from controlled gardens into parks and other public spaces, destroying plant diversity, and things will get worse unless something’s done.

“Do you want to walk into your local park and see a monoculture,  just a green bed of ivy growing through the trees?  Well, no!  a lot of people don’t want to see that.”
University of Virginia biologist Laura Galloway explains that ivy’s sudden surge follows a common pattern with invasive species.
“Often, for periods of up to 80 or 100 years, they can live in that new area at relatively low frequencies and then all of a sudden they start to spread all over.”
 Smith says the state relies on non-profit groups to get rid of ivy in parks, but to control it statewide, home gardeners will have to step up.  
“People should be really thoughtful before they decide to buy English Ivy and think maybe I’m going to manage it, but when I’m not here anymore, who’s going to keep it from spreading?”
He also hopes gardening centers will warn customers before selling them ivy – explaining they’ll have to keep the stuff from overtaking their property and possibly that of their neighbors.