Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And it’s everywhere. Choking the trees along our parkways, in our yards, on Main Street. I speak of English Ivy.
As the English arrived and settled in the new world, and became propertied and affluent, they adopted the landscaping sensibilities of the gentry. Privet hedges, lawns, sparrows, mute swans, and of course the ivy. Today Americans are still embracing that aesthetic. And its killing local nature.
Every homeowner, every garden store, every landscaping company, every municipality, and the big box stores — Home Depot, Lowes — have to start reckoning with the fact that when you introduce non-native plants, you destroy local ecosystems. We sell ornamentals from other parts of the world because the insects here won’t eat them. That is precisely the problem. English Ivy runs rampant because there is nothing here that eats them. The insects then disappear, then the birds, amphibians and reptiles. For Long Island, with its fetish on lawns and landscaping generally, is now an ecological disaster area, riddled with non-native / invasives of all sorts — Japanese Wisteria, Chinese Tree of Heaven, Norway Maple, phragmites, bamboo, autumn olive, burning bush, porcelain berry, Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Honeysuckle, Japanese Multiflora Rose. We’ve imported exotics from all over, and now everyone, all of us, must work together to repair our local environments if we are to have any hope of preventing the local extinction of numerous animals and plants due to the habitat destruction being wreaked by these out of control plants.
Thanks to the work of environmental scientists like Douglas Tallamy, NYT Best Selling Author, Nature’s Best Hope, we know that what counts is the complexity of the local biome, all the relationships between the various types of insects, plants, and animals. What we see in suburbia is the monoculture of the lawn, with the plantings consisting of predominantly non-native plants arranged decoratively, but with no regard to ecological function. You can watch Prof. Tallamy’s presentation of his work, which we hosted, here.
While English Ivy is not a food source for local insects, its berries are food for the birds. One can say. “I understand ivy can get out of control, but I like mine,” but what you do affects all of Long Island where I’m from) and beyond. People should know it just looks ghastly as well, especially when you realize the ivy is committing a slow act of murder. One should also know that English Ivy provides ground cover for the white-footed mouse, which is a carrier of deer ticks. Take away the ivy, and the owls can feast. I don’t know how much this can help us fight Lyme Disease, but one has to assume its a factor.
So what is to be done?
We’ve worked with local civic groups, even during Covid, to remove English Ivy locally. Bring your loppers, your handsaws. Do it in the winter months when you can best get to the trees. Going forward, this is an ideal annual task for the home owner, for scout troops. for local civic associations. We can restore our local public parks, which are just overrun. We are losing this battle badly, but with enough people — perhaps through the new Climate Conservation Corps, we can win the war.
SMPIL Consulting recently teamed with The Audubon Society of Long Island to convert an invasive-choked sump into a bird sanctuary with only native plantings. A press release is forthcoming. There are 800 sumps in Nassau County alone. Sumps recharge the aquifer. Removing the invasive plants and creating native habitat on the end improves our water quality. The sumps also become public parks. That again is something a Climate Conservation Corps ought to be engaged in, here on Long Island and nationally.
At this point, when it comes to the environment, its go big or go home. We can eradicate English Ivy, and all the other invasive plants and animals we are contending with across the country. It will take everyone, and many billions, but it would be spectacularly worth it.
In the meantime, start lopping! Nothing like seeing the English Ivy whither away come spring.