There’s a gulch by my house in Rainier Beach that’s infested with English ivy. I avoid it. It’s sinister. Whenever I walk by, I have to control the urge to cross the street.
Ivy is invasive. It’s not native to North America. Some fancy people brought it over to make authentic English gardens (which are actually pretty cool), but as is the trend with white people and the environment, didn’t think much about the long-term effects past next Tuesday. I’m guessing some lumber baron brought this stuff over here to prove that he was high class, just like an East Coast blue blood.
Here’s the thing: the climate here in the Northwest isn’t so different from England, and, even if you’re entirely on it, plants are eventually going to spread to places they’re not supposed to go. So now ivy is all over the place here.
Ivy gets everywhere. It’s hardy, and it grows on any surface. It can suspend itself from the underside of a ledge, or cover an entire tree.
This gulch near my house, a vacant lot, is full of nice old maples. They’re big, strong trees with the huge leaves and white or gray bark, and they’re native to the northwest. Northwest maples support a biome that includes mosses, fungi, ferns, and birds. The leaves that maples drop are the foundation of the rich mulch that covers the floor of northwest rain forests.
But ivy loves to grow on maples. The maples’ ridged bark, which can live symbiotically with native mosses and fungi, is the perfect surface for ivy. Texturally, it’s just like the brick or cinder block that ivy likes best.
So when ivy finds its way to the base of a big leaf maple, it brings creeping death with it. Slowly, over years, ivy will wind its way around the trunk, over the lower limbs, then the higher. The ivy will thicken and its roots will grip tighter. The maple’s leaves will stop sprouting, or be unable to emerge from under the ivy mat.
The ivy will choke the tree. It will not be able to respirate through its bark. And the tree will starve, as the leaves will not be in the sun, and photosynthesis will not happen. Birds will not be able to (or maybe just not want to) land on the branches, moss will be blocked from light, mushrooms will do their thing somewhere in the soil on the ground. Ivy consumes all of it, takes all the space, sucks out all the light that would have filtered through the branches and leaves of the maple tree, as it creeps over every other living plant.
This slow-motion horror has one ending: the tree will die. But before, the tree will be zombified, and stay standing only as a vessel for the green, parasitic vine. If the tree does fall, the ivy will finally consume it entirely. The roots of the ivy will eat the carcass of the tree that sustained it, even as it lays on the ground.
The death of the tree will only make the ivy stronger. The vine will devour the body that gave it life, and collapse it until there is only a bed where once stood a proud, strong trunk. Not even the fall of the tree will kill the cruel parasite: one ivy plant can cover acres, all by itself, up and down trees and over the bed of a forest, covering every surface.
The ivy has taken the entire gulch by my house. It has covered the trunks and limbs of every tree. One day they will fall, unless someone cuts away the ivy. But that’s not going to happen. It’s more likely that the trees themselves will get cut down first, to make way for a building. It will be a mercy for them. The trees will be killed all at once, with a chainsaw, rescued from the creeping death, or the sickly half-life that would result from cutting away and eradicating the vines.
An ivy plant was growing on the rock wall in front of my house. My wife and I cut it back. It was starting to shade the rose bushes below it, and it was creeping towards an apple tree planted above it.
We had to use trowels like crowbars to pry it off the wall, or hack at it with handsaws. The ivy only covered about twenty square feet, but it took two days for us to get rid of it. My sinus was on fire when it was done. The ivy fought back. It sent spores into the air. It took a hot shower and saline through my nose to get rid of it. I killed the ivy, but it was inside my head, dangerously close to my brain.
So now I stay away from that empty lot in the gulch. I have some idea what those trees are going through. I don’t want any part of it.
Also published on Medium.