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Pulling Ivy with the Stanley Park Eco-Stewards

Last week, I wrote a post about the wonderful experience I had weaving English ivy into bio-netting with artist Sharon Kallis. Sharon uses English ivy as an art medium, and determines ways to convert this invasive plant into structures that are beneficial to the forest and our surroundings (i.e. bio-netting, fencing). Now, I’d like to take a step back and talk about the role I play in pulling ivy from the ground.

The Stanley Park Eco-Stewards – a volunteer group that I’m a part of – are responsible for removing English ivy and other invasive plant species from key places throughout the park. Why does the ivy need to be removed, you ask? English ivy is a non-native, invasive species that likes to take over large areas and crowd out the native species that provide habitat and food for the wildlife in the park. Once English ivy is removed from an area, the native vegetation has more space to flourish.

 Here are two piles of invasive species that the Eco-Stewards pulled last weekend. The pile in the front is holly, and the ivy is piled in the back. Sorry about the camera smudge!

Here are two piles of invasive species that the Eco-Stewards pulled last weekend. The pile in the front is holly, and the ivy is piled in the back. Sorry about the camera smudge!

I’ve been an Eco-Steward since March, and have been pulling ivy once a month with a great group of volunteers. There are several things that I like about this experience. Of all the nice sensations I get from being close to the forest floor (the smell of mulch, an increased ability to breathe, the light compression of the soft ground under my feet), the feeling I love the most is the tug of war with the ivy vine as I pull it from the ground. English ivy is anchored to the ground horizontally by rootlets that are distributed across its vine. Sometimes I can extract the vine easily, with the sensation of ripping out a length of yarn from an unraveling sweater. Sometimes it is more challenging – often the ivy vines don’t end when I think they will, and continue for several metres underneath the weight of fallen branches, or are busy strangling the base of a sword fern. In this case, the ivy vine often breaks before I can pull it in its entirety, and I spend time digging through the soft mulch with my gloves, extracting the remaining rootlets and removing the rest of the vine. In these cases, I work like an electrician searching for the correct wire, trying not to mistake the severed ivy vine with the slender roots of trees and shrubs.

 A tangled circuit of extracted ivy vines.

A tangled circuit of extracted ivy vines.

Another great thing about being an Eco-Steward is the opportunity for learning about the forest in real time, as it develops throughout the seasons. Our energetic and knowledgeable group leader, Ivy, is very in tune with emerging vegetative growth at Stanley Park. She is good at scanning the landscape and finding many teachable moments as she leads us toward our work site. From Ivy I’ve learned how to identify douglas fir trees, salmonberry canes, and salal shrubs. I’ve learned facts about fiddleheads, salamanders, and spittlebugs. If I have a specific question about an aspect of the forest, I can ask Ivy rather than paging through a book or typing a vague question into Google.

If you’re interested in learning more about invasive species in the park, there are some pictures and notes on these species on the Stanley Park Ecology website. There’s also a handy-dandy picture poster that lists the common invasive plants and suggests native alternatives for gardeners. If you’re interested in eco-stewardship at Stanley Park, check the Stanley Park Ecology Society events page and look for “community invasive species management” or “eco-stewardship” events.