News / Science & Technology

Volunteers Battle Rampant Ivy Overtaking Parks

Non-native English ivy cloaks trees and blankets the forest floor all over Olympia, Washington's Priest Point Park. (T. Banse/VOA)
Non-native English ivy cloaks trees and blankets the forest floor all over Olympia, Washington's Priest Point Park. (T. Banse/VOA)
Tom Banse
Most of us have a workday morning routine. For some, a bit of exercise comes first. For others, it's two cups of coffee over the sports pages.

In Olympia, Washington, teacher Kevin Head rises long before dawn on school days to go alone to a city park. There, his routine begins by asking the rampant ivy vines for forgiveness.

"Thank you ivy for your tenaciousness, your strength," he said. "I ask you to let me take you out for the benefit of the world here."

And then Head leans down with gloved hands and for the next half hour, rips and yanks out as much ivy as he can.

The 56-year-old man works by the light of a single headlamp. Pretty much anything he grabs in this grove of big leaf maples is bound to be ivy.
Volunteer Kevin Head clears ivy in the pre-dawn darkness at Olympia's Priest Point Park in Washington State. (T. Banse/VOA)Volunteer Kevin Head clears ivy in the pre-dawn darkness at Olympia's Priest Point Park in Washington State. (T. Banse/VOA)
x
Volunteer Kevin Head clears ivy in the pre-dawn darkness at Olympia's Priest Point Park in Washington State. (T. Banse/VOA)
Volunteer Kevin Head clears ivy in the pre-dawn darkness at Olympia's Priest Point Park in Washington State. (T. Banse/VOA)


Head, and hundreds of volunteers like him nationwide, are motivated by a desire to restore the habitat for native plants and birds.

Botanical researchers believe English colonists brought the popular European groundcover to the New World as early as 1727.

Since then, English ivy has become one of the most widespread invasive plants in the U.S., found in about 30 states, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It has also invaded parts of South America, Australia and New Zealand.

At the same time, some gardening societies and nurseries still promote ivy as a useful ornamental plant.

Outside the cultivated garden, English ivy carpets the ground and engulfs tree trunks, weighing down upper branches, and blocking sunlight from reaching the lower levels of vegetation. Responsibility for combating escaped ivy generally rests at the local level. Land owners typically take the approach described by Sylvana Niehuser, the City of Olympia's park ranger.

"English ivy has a waxy property to the leaves. So spraying is not very effective at all. You can't mow it because it is just a tangley mess," Niehuser said. "So you are left with manual control by pulling it."

Niehuser figures it could take decades - if not a century - to pull all the ivy in Priest Point Park alone where Head volunteers. But she says the battle is winnable when you set your sights on smaller plots and saving individual trees.

"We try to focus on prioritizing in large parks like this," she said. "Then in our small parks, we try to work on getting it completely eradicated."

Niehuser mostly relies on volunteers for ivy control in Olympia parks because of staff cutbacks and tight budgets. It’s the same story elsewhere on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards where escaped ivy is most common. The infestation peters out as soon as you cross into the drier terrain of the American heartland.

Oregon is home to one of the biggest and oldest anti-ivy campaigns in the country. Mary Verrilli manages the No Ivy League, a program within the Portland Parks & Recreation Department.

"One thing that stands out is how much square feet of ivy we have removed," Verrilli said. "This is ivy from the ground. It's been over 4 million square feet of ivy. It's really impressive to see these stats since 1994."

Which is when the No Ivy League started. Of course, with nearly three centuries of growth behind them, the non-native vines have had a big head start.

Super-volunteer Head says he's committed to his ivy pulling routine at least until he retires later this decade. One thing that keeps him going is the pleasure of seeing native plants and birds return.

"I can only get about 10 square feet a day," he said. "But it is thrilling to see it start to uncover."

You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs