Ivy on trees… kill it or cherish it?

At this time of year our thoughts turn to holly and ivy… and sometimes we encounter one of the ‘old chestnuts’ for debate that just seem to go on and on. Is ivy on a tree a good thing or a bad thing? Should we take ivy off trees, or leave it on? The world seems to be divided sharply into two on this matter. The Ranger, for what it’s worth, is firmly in the ivy retention camp. Ivy (c) ScoobygirlI well remember a Christmastime some 15 years ago when on my rounds in the woodland I managed I encountered the work of an ivy vigilante. Some clever dick had gone along the woodland ride and cut about 10cm out of the big stems of ivy on the oak trees, killing dozens of ivy plants. I was furious, and for years afterwards the dead ivy lurked in the oak branches, accusingly. Of course, it grew back, but that’s not the point. Ivy provides good shelter and food for wildlife, it is a native plant, and it does not harm trees. No, it doesn’t. A weak tree may succumb to ivy infestation, but this is because it was on the way out anyway. It’s also nigh on impossible to get dead ivy out of a tree.

So why do people hate it so? My theory is that it’s a gardening thing. Of course, in a formal situation, such as a park or garden, it’s quite proper to take ivy off trees. Indeed, because ivy is so successful as a plant it can certainly be seen as a weed in some contexts. So gardeners and those who like tidy gardens, like to remove it. The problem comes when they extend this principle to natural and managed woodlands, and assume that ivy elsewhere is also a problem. Not so. I’m happy for gardeners to pick off as much ivy as they like – in a garden. But if ivy is a weed in one context, it cannot be assumed that it will be so in all others. So please, if your secateur trigger finger is itchy, don’t go into your local woodland and cut the ivy stems imagining you’re improving matters. Clip off a few jolly ivy boughs instead, decorate your home this Christmas with this fine, festive plant, and learn to enjoy it in its place.

71 thoughts on “Ivy on trees… kill it or cherish it?”

  1. Loads of the trees in our local woodland are covered with ivy. We love wildlife but we love trees too. If the trees die then so surely will the wildlife?

  2. An interesting debate, but one or two seem to be overlooking the obvious. Allow me to give you a Druids perspective.

    Many of the windthrown trees mentioned are said to be ‘hundreds of years old’, or similar. Face it people, trees, like humans, are ‘born’, grow up, grow old, and DIE. This is just part of the natural cycle. Such competition is witnessed throughout the natural world, and as is the way, the weak shall fall.

    Has anybody thought to ask; is there secondary infection / infestation that might have brought this tree down? If so, it’s never mentioned. Why is Ivy such a problem in the crown? Seems to me that the total surface area and the general vigour of the leaves in the canopy massively increase the ‘sail factor’ of that canopy, further increasing the top-heaviness of the tree. Any secondary infection (fungus, etc)can only serve to weaken the tree. Especially if it’s old. Young trees suffer (apparently) no great harm.

    As a working ranger, I see no issue in undertaking a crown reduction & occasional delimbing of secondary scaffold branches, AND removal of dominant ivy in the crown; but only if there is sound reason. There are way too many butchers out there. Ivy IS a native plant, and IS a highly valuable food source and roosting site for many species, and, dare i say it, ot has evolved a successful strategy for its own survival. Ok, so it’s parasitic, but ask yourselves…what other parasite kills its’ own host? Answer: NONE – it has no survival value, and remember, sooner or later, it too, will die naturally.

    So why not treat an Ivy covered tree (of any species) as a separate habitat, and manage it accordingly, if you have to.

    Agendas, agendas, agendas…..

  3. “…that ivy does not harm trees unless the tree is already in decline”

    Just a few comments (been chatting to a tree surgeon friend).

    If ivy does not harm trees in any way, but only added to the wildlife value of the tree, why is not an ivy sapling planted at the same time as young trees? Why are not our parks, woodlands and gardens undergoing active ivy planting schemes?

    I’m sorry, but I have had it with ivy. Our local woodland has now lost the battle and all trees have been dragged down. The middle-aged oak has lost its battle and has broken in half, the elder trees are all on their sides and the ancient hawthorns are dead/fallen under their burden. Are there any birds, bats or wildlife in this morass of ivy lumps? Apart from wood pigeons, no. The old nesting sites are all on the floor now and there is no roosting for bats – all their roosts are lost. There are rats now though – but I think we don’t need any more of those.

  4. I am rather shocked at the number of people who are so entrenched in their views against ivy. The ranger posits the theory that it’s ‘a gardening thing’, which may be the case (I’d go for it being ‘a control thing’ myself!) However, a quick look at the Royal Horticultural Society’s website gives the straight answer that ivy does not harm trees unless the tree is already in decline, possible exceptions being the naturally open-canopied ash.

    Many of the examples of trees cited by commenters on this page could be suffering due to lowering water tables, increased water abstraction, soil compaction, damaged roots from the increased weight of farm machinery, deeper ploughing, traffic, roadworks , laying underground cables or a host of other factors, only then allowing ivy to move into the thinning canopy.

    It’s just that when people see the ivy they jump to the conclusion that rather than being a symptom of the tree’s decline, it is the cause.

    Wantonly going around the countryside hacking through mature ivy stems and killing large quantities of it could actually mean that you are breaking the law. Many bats roost in ivy in trees and it is illegal to damage or destroy a roosting or nesting site of any bat. Amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 within the Countryside and Rights of way Act 2000 mean that this destruction does not have to be intentional or deliberate – reckless damage or destruction is included. Not considering the fact that bats could be using the ivy before hacking it down could well be construed as reckless!

  5. Writing here because the ivy has got so bad that it has got to the tops of the trees and is now hanging down back to the ground (in Berkhampstead, Herts). Hertfordshire is very much a human influenced landscape and up until the 1950’s gangs of men cleared ditches, shaped the hedges and kept the trees in order. Now the ditches are clogged, hedgerows are neglected and mis-shapen and the trees are solid with ivy and shedding limbs. Even the great oaks are struggling. I will add that in the natural forests in Hertfordshire (of which there is very little left) the trees keep themselves mainly free from ivy and there is a natural equilibrium.

    Concerning the ivy, I cut the stems of several bad vines that were taking over some ancient trees and those trees are starting to leaf better and I note birds are nesting in the boughs once again. I think that if human hands interfered in the first place with ancient forest clearance and even the removal of hedgerows, then it is up to us to keep the landscape we created in good order – if we wish to carry on the work of our forebears.

  6. Someone at the top said “..ivy on 300 year old trees..” I certainly don’t think they kill trees, I feel there is a negligible effect.

  7. Since leaving my comment a month ago I have been observing the growth of ivy on the trees in Oxfordshire.

    I see that ivy does not grow far out onto the limbs of trees unless they are dead or dying. I therefore conclude that ivy and the tree can coexist, and that ivy need not be destroyed.

    When I first posted I was leaning towards the destruction of ivy. I have now changed my mind, especially after seeing the large numbers of insects feeding on the flowers that are out at the moment.

  8. It seems to me that ivy is worst on isolated trees and on trees at the edge of woodland where the light can shine on their trunks. Neither situation is natural for a tree which has evolved to grow in a forrest.

    On the radio I heard an agri-business spokesman claiming that the population of birds has not crashed over the last 50 years. He pointed out that “collared doves” are doing rather well. Collared doves? …I thought ‘Oh, he means blasted wood pigeons!’ His statement is a bit like saying that rats and cockroaches will do well after the apocalypse. Anyway, I blame the increase in wood pigeons on the fact that they nest in the ivy that grows on all the trees surrounding my house. Another factor is that people have given up eating them. Thirty years ago you might hear a wood pigeon but they were very shy. Now they have become incredibly bold.

    Regarding the statement above that ivy does not compete for nutrients with the host: what rubbish. The competition for nutrients is exactly proportional to the living biomass. I submit that there is more living ivy tissue on a heavily infested tree than there is living tree tissue.

    What happens in autumn. The poor tree sheds its leaves, which rot, and the ivy takes up the nutrients.

  9. a neighbor refuses to clear our property from a huge fallen tree covered with ivy. Does anyone know if insurance adjusters know about this risk and how to make people responsible? The neighbors have more large trees just waiting to fall on our property. What can we do?

    The Ranger responds: Guessing you’re not in England so I’ve no idea how the law works where you are. But my advice is the same: talk to your insurers.

  10. A very good way to antagonise your neighbours is to cut through the ivy on their trees because you presume to know what is best for them.
    The man who lives next door to me found this out yesterday[He had a lesson a few years back from me on the subject which obviously did not sink in]He cited strangulation;his upset neighbour cited owls and woodpeckers which frequent and inhabit the ivy.
    My attempt at the voice of reason is that everyone should do what their conscience allows on their own property[although all that bandying of weedkiller brand names horrifies me] and should never even think of cutting anything which by dint of purchase is transiently the property of someone else or is growing wild.
    It seems a character defect to me to want everything tidy and pleasing to the eye;a subjective concept of course and I worry that people with the itchy secateur finger or the machete red mist are a little dangerous.
    Leaving parts of the garden as near to hunter/gatherer era condition as possible and then spending time in them is a very soothing experience,if it can be achieved,and is good for the spirit.

  11. ivy must damage healthy trees how can people say that it only affects un healthy trees i am trying to start a campaign to help large trees that are affected there arnt enougth trees in east loithian martinall@twitter.com

  12. I totally disagree with “leaving ivy on trees”. I have moved into an area where there are miles and miles of trees heavy laden with ivy and the boughs are breaking with the weight – causing obstruction on roads and pathways through the forest. Several of the trees opposite my house are beautiful but cannot breath for the extensive ivy..so…. I got to work in my lane and cleared 3 x 40ft trees from the ground up to about 20 ft thereby exposing the trees and preventing branches falling on my house. I also have taken ivy of trees in my garden and they are bearing fruit (cones) for the first time in years. I have given it a treat of soil conditioner at the roots. I believe that I have done the right thing!!!

  13. Ivy is undoubtedly a good cover for many invertebrates, also slugs and snails. In short trees like oak the ivy does not seem to be a problem so the cover is a good idea. In tall shallow rooted beech the wind damage is quite considerable. So the periodical removal seems like a good idea as this reduces the amount of blown down trees which prevent byways, bridal ways and foot paths being choked with fallen trees. Consequently both sides of the debate have advantages and disadvantages so if woodland paths are to be enjoyed then enjoyment can be derived for the observation of birds using the ivy as well as the observation of tree barks free from ivy.

    As an observation near me are a number of trees that have ivy on them but up to about chest height there are very few ivy leaves. I can only assume that deer are grazing the ivy. This being another use for the Ivy plants.

  14. As a regular walker through a small unmanaged wood, the evidence of evergreen ivy stunting the growth of many types of deciduous trees – and then acting as a sail to bring them down in autumn and winter storms – is incontrovertable. It may well be that trees which get well established can tolerate becoming ivy-covered in later life. Where the ivy grows at a similar pace to the young tree then strangulation, rot and wind damage is the inevitable result.

  15. One question that I have wondered about has not been addressed. When ivy is pulled off of the bark of a tree, it seems to do damage to the bark that would seem to invite problems to the tree. Is it possible that bark damage from pulling off the ivy would do more to weaken the tree than leaving the ivy on would?

  16. I’m in the anti-ivy camp, it swamps hawthorns killing off whole copses, it overcomes oaks and I’ve seen it reach the crown of poplars, 70 foot high!! When my dad was young they used to cut the roots and come back a year later to take the thick stems for firewood and kindling. This type of forestry management went on for centuries and only in the last hundred years has been neglected.

  17. I live in Devon and we have a lane running along the rear of all our properties with about six very old oak trees, several hundred years old they must be.
    It is only in the last four years that they have been invaded with ivy.
    The ivy is now right up into the crowns and all we have now are a few branches that stick out in mid air and look dead.
    No body has ever cleared ivy off these trees but they have only been covered for the last few years and now, because the ivy has taken over and suffocated them, two of them have died.
    I have been in touch with the council and they are going to fell the two dead ones and clear the ivy off the other four in the hope that they recover.
    I beleive the ivy has had a suffocating and strangling effect on these trees, much as if I put a plastic bag over them.
    Ivy has certainly killed these trees, and to the person who asks who has taken the ivy off them in the last few hundred years, nobody has, it has only taken over on our footpath in the last four years.

  18. My landlord has gained permission from my local council to cut down a large sycamore that stands on the inner city property where I live. The council officer I contacted claims that this is because it is “showing signs of decay and ivy strangulation”. It certainly has plenty of ivy growing on it’s main trunk, but to my (admittedly untrained) eye it looks like a perfectly healthy mature tree, and it seems a real shame to lose it, and the wildlife in it.

    Does anyone know how a non-expert, like me, can determine whether this sycamore is actually moribund? The council might be right of course, but I’ve also heard rumors that they’re happy to see the number of mature trees in the city reduced, due to the cost of cleaning up leaf debris: so I’m wondering how objective their decision is.

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    The Ranger responds: you really can’t tell just by looking – it’s hard. You need to seek advice from a tree consultant.

  19. I’ve cut back ivy on trees that grow on a riverbank behind my property. There is an Ash which has a strangulated lower trunk which moves and sways dreadfully in high winds. If it fell, it would likely cause the river bank to collapse which may lead to a landslip situation as the bank is quite steep. Interestingly, once the Ivy had died back, a season later it resulted in a proliferation of insects and a correspondingly large increase in the number of small birds. I can see no reason why Ivy shouldn’t be controlled as done carefully it should result in greater biodiversity.

  20. For about one hundred years ivy has been neglected where i live. The result is not dead trees, but a wide variaty of wildlife. I have ringed some of the ash trees over the past year that looked heavy back in winter, though i wouldn’t touch a tree with ivy which wouldn’t justify a chainsaw. I have had to split some of the ivy logs for fire wood because they were so big. My view is not to cut ivy unless it is making the tree unsteady and dangerous in winter gales and that cutting ivy at the base which is small enough for secutures to handle is a waste of time and can only do harm to wildlife in the immediate area, especially insects.

  21. ivy just starts taking over if you leave it. i am a keen gardner but the ivy i planted has started coming in to the house. what can i use to kill it off . any suggestions are welcome

  22. Having read the arguments for and against the benefits or otherwise of ivy, my opinion is that it should be controlled, not completely destroyed. This is because ivy is a mini-ecosystem that contains many insects that are the food supply for a variety of predatory lifeforms, especially birds.

    The Ranger responds: I think that’s a good stance. I also think the location and context of the ivy needs to be considered when deciding what to do. If this is done, your approach seems eminently sensible to me.

  23. Interesting, but my main concern is with the damage (if any) caused by ivy on sound brickwork.
    I have been trying, for over a year now, to establish a wildlife/butterfly garden here on our housing estate in Camden – London. But I’ve come accross so much ignorance, arrogance and sheer stupidity from the management and many of the tenants on matters such as the ivy on our walls. Two of the three magnificent specimens we had have been cut thus destroying the nesting sites of the flock of rare house sparrows, berries for thrushes, late summer nectar for bees, the nectar/caterpillar food plant of two species of butterfly and, just as sadly, the roosting site for a colony of bats. Entire ecosystems destroyed by the triple alliance above. It makes you want to give up. But it can’t.

  24. Strong, woody VINES (Wisteria, kudzu etc.) that like sunlight will kill trees. Ivy, which does not like sunlight will not grow out into the canopy of a tree (where the light is.) The water and nutrient competition is insignificant for mature trees (trees go WAY deeper for that anyway.) The ONLY good reason to remove IVY from a tree is that it does increase the wind drag on the tree making it more likely to be blown down in a storm.

    Enough with all the emotional nonsense already!

  25. Interesting debate. My expertise is more on ivy on buildings rather than trees.

    But Mike seemed to have the most common-sense point; the tree becomes “in danger” when the ivy is prolific on the crown. Possibly because the tree is already in trouble as a healthy crown would have restricted the growth of the ivy somewhat. Which would then account for the trees with ivy toppling over.

    There does seem to a non-gardening obsessed layman that a compromise is available. Manage the ivy by not allowing it into the crown, or carefully removing or shearing it when there. The biodiversity of the tree would be maintained on the trunk and lower levels whilst the pressure would be relieved at the crown.

    To Chantal. When dealing with it on buildings – I’m not sure how old your building is or what it’s made from. But I would NOT recommend cutting the base on a building. It is much easier to control it’s removal and avoid damage to the structure if you
    (1) shear the foliage if particularly bushy
    (2) apply a herbicide such as RootOut or Roloxide 10 (ideally something with copper sulphate. But assuming you’ve got lime mortar or limestone make sure that the solution pH is neutral or slightly alkaline. Do this at an appropriate time of the year to minimise risk to biodiversity.
    (3) wait for it to work and remove from the top. It’s much easier to do it bit by bit that way, rather than trying to yank it all from the bottom possibly with unpredictable results.

    That advice is for buildings only and not trees or hedgerows.

  26. I think the “Ranger” is going around with either his eyes shut or is wearing his rose coloured glasses. Things are not alright with the increasing proliferation of woodland ivy. Why is it with anything from iceburgs to floods we blame it on climate change, but it is only this numpty that can’t see a problem.I have played and walked in my local woods for the past 55 years and have never seen anything like this last two years of proliferation. Is it the day of the triffids or what?

  27. I’m joining the AIL its killing all the trees on the roadside in shropshire. I have seen many trees blown over and ALL have been covered in ivy. I nor my friend on the council who attends these events has ever cleared a tree that has not had ivy on it. Rise up and kill Ivy whereever you see it now!

  28. I recently moved in to a house where the previous owners were Ivy-Mad! I am very afraid of spiders and I’ve seen many of them in my garden since I’ve moved in. My brother says that spiders like to live/breed in ivy. What should I do to remove this ivy. What is the best and quickest way?? I’m desperate to get rid of the spiders! By the way, the spiders are the big hairy variety and they become quite aggressive when approached. I need to kill the ivy and the spiders at the same time. Sorry, nature lovers, but hey both MUST go asap! Any ideas? Please help!

    The Ranger replies: sorry Chantal, we’ve got great sympathy for you but you’ve come to the wrong place. We like spiders, and we like ivy as the article explains. Neither will harm you significantly, and if you get rid of them they will soon enough come back. As you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you’ll be better off learning to live with these harmless elements of nature – even if you wanted to you’d never really get rid of them.

  29. I have been spending a large number of weekends in the past few months deliberately cutting the ivy boughs that snake up our shared garden’s 30 or so trees. I learnt a lot from a website – that I can’t access any more! – about the state of ivy growth across the country. It shows photos of seven years’ growth on the same walls and trees and hedgerows that show an engorgement by ivy of the native trees. The writer posits that this increase in ivy – and there definitely is a national increase – is caused by several factors.
    1. climate change, which favours ivy growth, but not deciduous trees.
    2. landscape amnesia, when we forget what we once looked at and merely accept that what is ‘natural’ must be right, which leads to the third point (entirely my own!)
    3. that the countryside of Britain is a human-made landscape that has been formed over 1400 years. Only a few acres of undisturbed woodland exist. It is parkland writ huge. Trees’ shapes distorted from their basic symmetry by invasives like ivy, especially away from ‘natural’ woodlands, need restoring. It is as much our heritage as a grand house or the Tower of London. All of our islands are human-created landscapes, those that are full of trees, hedgerows and grass as much as big cities and industrial sites. Greenery is generally more restful to the human eye, and are very much in our internalised notion of what ‘wild and untouched’ is, yet it is almost all human made, by artisan craftsmen of woods and hedgerows. However we can compensate. While I have cut all of the arm-thick boughs of ivy that crawl up all our trees here (Kent)so that the upper clumps of ivy are starting to wither and the shapes of the trees to reappear (this spring’s leaf-burst willbe very different!), I have compensated by planting a hedgerow as a border 25 metres long in native thorns and dog roses etc which are easily avaiable from firms on the internet (including excellent short videos on how to plant such effectively)then cut the stems halfway down in order to produce a full bushy hedge of 3 metres height in about 4 years. Apparently when hedges were maintained by human hand and not machines, the hedgers would remove the ivy strands every few years as they clipped back and laid the hedge that had grown in the meantime. Now this happens rarely, and machine cutting hacks back the hedgrows unmercifully and produces hedgerow (in Kent if no where else)with about two feet of hedge on its top and naked trunks beneath extending for about 4 feet. This eliminates the thick clustering of bottom growth where insects, birds and small mammals might live. It takes away protection. In our area and through much of Kent roadside trees and hedges are heavily overgrown by ivy, shapes obliterated so that what was once a fine stand of trees cresting a skyline is now a line of thick shapeless giant’s thumbs.
    Finally I would like to start a national Anti Ivy League (AIL) whose members would work regularly to remove ivy from accessible trees across the landscape, probably not in woodlands as such (though in maintained woodland close by I come across cuts on oak and beech etc that are obvious anti-ivy). Nothing heavily organised at all, more a movement to restore a little our ailing lanscape that is blighted so often by moribund notions of our natural countryside. Take your saw and heavy snips wherever you go and save a tree from obfuscation.
    Please be in touch if AIL interests…
    Kevin Power

  30. I came to this site seeking help and found a debate,apparently populated by people simply recycling fixed positions. According to the Woodlands Trust website: In our view, ivy is not a plant which directly causes harm to trees.
    I note the weasel word “directly” and conclude that this implies that it DOES do harm indirectly. Later it goes on:
    Where ivy has grown high into the crown it may affect tree stability. The natural balance of the crown, stem and roots may be adversely affected by dense ivy growth and the tree may be liable to blow over in high winds, particularly when accompanied by rain or snow.

  31. Dear Kerry,

    How do you think this Oak tree managed 300 years without people interfering, in the first place???
    Did some ancient warrior kill the Ivy for it, before you were born???

    Comment from: Kerry
    It saddens me and my partner to see trees such as Oaks which are 300 years old suffering with this over invasive climber. Ivy causes the tree to compete for nutrients and moisture from the soil, it also adds great weight making the tree more susceptible

  32. sorry Mr Ranger but here in Surrey the evil ivy is killing thousands of trees, smothering the crowns and every time we have high winds felling many trees.
    The mild winters are not restricting the spread of ivy that a nice cold winter of old would and it continues to grow throughout what should be a dormant period. The result is that icy growth rates are much faster than years ago.
    Time for people to rise up and repel the evil that is ivy before it is too late.
    Grab a saw and do your duty !

  33. ivy has destroyed our property which underwent extensive landscaping 15 years ago. The neighbors unkempt, nasty stuff took over in our yard–we are now re-lanscaping. How does one get rid of a huge amount of this pest?

  34. Isn’t ivy alot like the strangler fig?


    The Ranger responds:
    Not really, no. They’re unrelated, growing in very different climates, and in a different way. However they both grow on trees in low-light environments, so that much is comparable.

  35. I have a 20 acre wood, and some ruined buildings amongst it.
    I have become progressively concerned at the spread of ivy through the woods.
    A beech tree area with substantial trees, has changed from beautiful trunks to
    ivy clad trunks. A ruined mill with fine stonework has in the last 5 years been overwhelmed by ivy.
    What worries me is, why is ivy suddenly spreading at such a rate. There are a lot of deer in the woods so nothing has changed, except perhaps the climate?
    The other problem in the woods is the explosion of Holly trees, and their leaves have a similar look to them.
    The only way I have been able to kill ivy spreading on the ground is sodium chlorate sprayed over the leaves.

  36. To say that the primary reason deciduous trees loose their leaves is to protect from winter winds is laughable. Before you make absurd assumptions like that, do some research.

    “Leaves are expensive organs for a tree to build and maintain. During winter (in cold climates) or the dry season (in warmer climates) it becomes difficult for the tree to maintain its water balance as there is less free water available in the soil. It is thus difficult for the tree to keep its leaves turgid and the cells of the tissues in the leaves would become damaged by the cold in temperate areas, or the heat in warmer areas. Instead of remaining actively growing during this time of the year the tree enters a dormant period.

    Trees are adapted to the climate of the area where they grow. They do not wait for their leaves to be damaged by the harsh conditions of the winter or dry season before losing them. They prepare in advance for the onset of the unfavourable season by getting ready to lose their leaves. The enzymes which control the functioning chemical pathways in the leaves e.g. photosynthesis, contain nutrients which are valuable to the tree because they are in short supply in the soil from where they are absorbed. Before the tree abscises or separates off its leaves, it breaks down many of the organic compounds and reabsorbs the valuable nutrients from its leaves. It will reuse these in the next growing season. Nutrients which are reabsorbed from leaves include nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P).”

    More info here

    http://www.botany.uwc.ac.za/ecotree/leaves/decidu.htm

  37. Ivy makes trees more prone to being blown down – true.
    Otherwise I see no reason to kill it. A healthy tree will always out compete ivy growing on it. If this were not the case, there’d be alot less trees as a result, considering it is a native that has been here since the end of the ice age. It is an important part of the ecosystem, just like the trees it climbs and provides food and shelter for a huge range of wildlife – even hedgehogs will climb into it in order to find a safe place to hibernate. I say keep it and don’t let the Health and Safety brigade tell you any different!

  38. I have recently had a preservation order put on a 300 year old oak that grows at the bottom of my garden and also the adjoining gardens. It was covered in ivy to a height of 60 feet which totally obscured any view of the trunk/branches. Within the next few years it would have spread into the crown of the tree, where I feel that it would have done immense damage.The vines that covered the lower trunk were the thickness of my arm.The ivy has now been killed and the tree is slowly returning to it’s natural beautiful state. All the branches are now visable and on a sunny afternoon the sun streams through to the groung below.

  39. My friend Tom lives on a barge, and there is a large sycamore on his mooring, on a steep slope above his boat. It has a lot of ivy growing up it, and looms above, making Tom very nervous in high winds! He is a keen conservationist, and loath to make unnecessary interventions. What should he do?
    Should he cut through the ivy stems at about 9′ above ground, on an annual basis? That way, the wildlife could continue to benefit from the plant, but it would not overweight the tree?
    The tree has lots of lichen on the branches right up to the outer twigs. That’s not a very good sign, is it? He’s thinking of pruning the top a bit, but will that be enough?He doesn’t want to wake up at the bottom of the canal, under a toppled sycamore….

    The Ranger responds: there’s a serious disease of trees, that very few ever recover from. It’s called ‘I don’t like the look of that tree‘. People get into their minds that a certain tree is a threat to them. The longer it has stood safely, the more likely they think it will fall. The reassurance of experts – in the unlikely event that they actually seek any expert advice – falls on deaf ears. Once they’ve decided that the tree is a danger, they won’t be comforted. In every other case The Ranger has ever encountered, the only possible solution to the unbearable ennui caused by the offending tree has been to cut it down or cut it back, regardless of the need to do so or the risk it presents. Of course, there are always genuine cases of risk. But they are very few and far between. The advice of The Ranger in this case as in all other such cases is that if it’s that important, get a professional to look at the tree – and by a professional we’re not talking a jobbing tree surgeon, but a consultant. It’s amazing how many people who were just recently talking of matters of life and death have a different view when it comes to spending

  40. As a Beeekeeper I encourage the growth of ivy in my garden. This being one of the few plants that flowers in September providing valuable stores for the bees to see them through Winter. Those people who think it is a nuisance should appreciate not only does it help insects but provides shelter and food for all species through the year. Including birds.

  41. There is some interesting disgussion going on here about the dangers of ivy. As a fellow Ranger i can see both points of veiw. I must say that from my experience a tree with large amounts of ivy in a native woodland is a fantastic thing to behold. Wildlife love it! But the flip side of the coin is when it comes to tree safety inspections ivy is not looked on very well. I beleive that where ivy infested trees are near to peoples homes it should come down. The fact of the matter is that larger animals in woodland eat ivy off of trees (Cattle or Deer) so you only get an ivy infestation around populated areas or areas of low density grazing animals. But hey its only an opinion.

  42. If I were blind, I might say that ivy does not kill trees. Fortunately, my sight is good. I cannot believe that anyone can say that ivy does not harm trees. Ivy is a destructive phenomenon. There is no other purpose served in infesting trees. First it embraces the tree, climbs the entire height of the tree, spreads and becomes top flourishing and, eventually, disturbs the equilibrium of the tree and fells it. Its climbing will already have restricted the diametrical growth of the tree. Ivy should be destroyed anywhere it is seen to climb a tree.
    Trees have evolved to grow unencumbered and with their barks exposed to the air.
    Wildlife habitats have existed and flourished long before ivy infested our woodlands.
    Down with ivy!

    The Ranger responds: Interesting hypothesis. I’d like to see your evidence that ivy is of any more recent origin than trees. And why is it a bad thing if ivy does fell trees in a natural woodland?

  43. I note the comment from Tufty above: I’d be interested to know on what basis anyone suggests that the primary reason for deciduous trees shedding leaves is to counteract gales. Although it’s certainly one factor I really don’t think this can be the main reason. What about trees in tropical climates? They suffer far more vigorous storms than we do in temperate lands, yet they keep their leaves on all year around – sometimes quite big leaves. And what about those trees, as Tufty mentions, that keep their leaves on all winter anyway? It just doesn’t add up.

  44. I believe that particularly at risk are native deciduous trees, which by their nature shed their large leaves in Autumn primarily to protect themselves from the force of winter gales. As such, if these trees are covered in the evergreen Ivy, when large wind forces are present they will severely stress any affected tree.

  45. I can’t help thinking that the British love of gardening is getting out of control. Trees and ivy were made for one another and the idea that oaks need meddling humans with secateurs to look after them is laughable.

  46. If trees primarily shed their leaves to counteract gales, how do you explain beech and hornbeam trees, which keep their dead leaves on all winter? I think you’ll find that the reasons for trees shedding their leaves are a lot more complex than that.

  47. I could not disagree more with Ranger on this topic, in fact I personally kill Ivy wherever I can. A letter to my local council has resulted in 10 years of neglect being rectified in the local cemetary, where Ivy had invaded a number of mature oak trees. Clearly over the course of a number of years, Ivy can completely cover any tree, and may eventually strangle it. I believe that particularly at risk are native deciduous trees, which by their nature shed their large leaves in Autumn primarily to protect themselves from the force of winter gales. As such, if these trees are covered in the evergreen Ivy, when large wind forces are present they will severely stress any affected tree. I have subsequently learned that further damage occurs by the continual presence of moisture around the trunk of the tree, encouraging mildew, rot, boring insects, etc, that will degrade the tree’s protective bark, without which it will die. So let’s all cut the wretched stuff down!

  48. I think if you’ve read the article you won’t be surprised that I don’t really agree – except in gardens and parks, ivy is not an overinvasive plant, and does not adversely affect a tree – or rot its bark – unless that tree was already in some way weakened. If a woodland is dominated by ivy the woodland can be thinned out to let in more light, but ideally, if it’s just left, it will sort itself out in time. Ask yourself this – if ivy kills trees, why are there are not areas of ivy and no trees?

  49. It saddens me and my partner to see trees such as Oaks which are 300 years old suffering with this over invasive climber. Ivy causes the tree to compete for nutrients and moisture from the soil, it also adds great weight making the tree more susceptible to toppling, the ivy also interferes with the trees ability to perform Photosynthesis which plays a very important part in the health and disease resistance of the tree. What are your thoughts on the decaying bark of the host tree where the ivy is attatched? I have done a lot of research on the matter and I feel that Ivy makes good ground cover but when it gets very large it affects the overall health of the tree.

  50. Flowering ivy is an excellent source of nectar for various invertebrates. Definitely to be encouraged. I have some qualms though about the invasive prostrate form ‘Hibernica’. This was planted as an ornamental by the Victorians and is now very common in woodlands in towns and cities and urban fringe areas. I recently noticed how, in a local woodland nature reserve, it dominates the woodland floor and seems to have completely smopthered other woodland vegetation. I guess there is a case for removing it from managed woodlands in order to increase diversity of the woodland ground flora.

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