Alien Invaders! | Tennessee Aquarium

There is a war going on at Mr. Bill’s place. My woods have been taken over by an alien invader! 

Today, we’ll talk about a plant that is an INVASIVE SPECIES. It is not supposed to be in my piece of forest. It was not found here originally. It is from another country. It is taking over and changing the habitat.

An invasive species can be either a plant or an animal that is not supposed to be there, and it hurts the things that are supposed to be there.

My alien invader probably started as a tiny little plant. Maybe it was a decorative potted plant from a florist that got thrown out or maybe even a seed in bird poop that was dropped in a good spot and sprouted. Since it started small, nobody noticed or thought much about it. This gave it the start it needed.

It grew, and it grew some more. It found a tree, and it began climbing. It is a good climber. It grows little roots all along its stem that help it hold onto whatever it is climbing. It keeps climbing higher and higher, getting bigger and bigger, until it climbs to the top of the tree. 

And it is not just one vine that climbs a tree. Usually there are many of these vines on one tree. They are all covered with thick leaves, and when you add all the vines and leaves together there is a lot of weight for the poor tree to hold up. To make things worse, all those thick leaves steal sunlight from the tree’s leaves. Over time, they make the tree they grow on weak. It might eventually die, or maybe even topple over in a strong wind.

I love my trees! They are beautiful. I have many large oak, hickory, pine, sweet gum, and maple trees. There are a lot of smaller understory trees too, mostly dogwood, wild cherry, and sassafras, that grow in the shade of the bigger trees. 

Because I treasure my trees, I saw that they needed my help. English Ivy, the invasive species of vine I’ve been talking about, had begun to cover many of them. It reached to the tops of some of the largest trees. I could see that many of them were suffering from the coat of ivy that covered them.

I began researching how to control English Ivy on the internet. Some websites suggested herbicides, which are poisons that gradually kill the vines. I don’t like using poisons because they may hurt my trees too. 

The sites I liked most said the best way to control English Ivy is to cut all the vines at ground level and then pull the vines off the tree as high as you can reach. The ivy left on the tree will then die and then eventually fall off the tree.

They warned that you couldn’t leave the cut ivy vines on the ground. They will root in and start growing again! You need to pick them up and bag them for the garbage or pile them off the ground on a brush pile, making sure no vines touch the ground. 

Back in January, the ENGLISH IVY WAR began. I started with trees closest to my house and carefully removed all the vines from the ground to about 6 feet up. I was surprised how difficult this was. I found that a long screwdriver helped get under the little clinging roots of the ivy vines to pry them loose from the tree, so I could then cut them. I chose to add my cuttings to a brush pile, creating a habitat for other creatures.

Ivy still covers the forest floor, but I have now cleared ivy off more than 30 trees. There are still many more to do. It will be a long battle to get it off my trees! I’ve pulled some vines along the ground too, but my first mission in this war is to save the trees. I think they look happier, as they begin leafing out this spring.

Look at my before and after photos. I also included pictures of cut vines laying in the woods and me carrying out an armload of vines that I removed from just two trees. Wish me luck. One day I’ll have all my trees free of ivy. I plan to win this war!

Continue to keep your nature journals. The Naturalist’s Notebook blogs are my journal entries. I’m also documenting my work with photos. You can include drawings or photos in your journal, too. Make it your own, any way you want to do it, and HAVE FUN exploring around your yard or neighborhood. 

One day when COVID-19 is only a memory, and your family can travel again, I hope you will keep records of fun vacations in your journal.

Mr. Bill

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