Q: I realize English ivy is widespread in Maryland, but there are some evergreen vines clinging to trunks that look a bit different than typical ivy leaves. Are they native, or should they too be removed?
A: An evergreen climber I see covering tree trunks in parks which might be confused for English ivy at a distance is wintercreeper (sometimes written winter creeper; Euonymus fortunei). This non-native invasive acts like English ivy in that it’s a groundcover when no support to climb is present, and a clinging vine when trunks or walls are available.
This species also has negative impacts on the trees and our ecosystem and should be removed if growing on your own property. Parks manage invasives as best they can, but with limited resources, we can do our part by not cultivating the species likely to spread into them, even if we don’t live immediately next to parklands. Weed Warrior volunteer programs exist, such as in Montgomery County, if you wish to be trained in invasive plant ID and to help with their removal on public lands. While wintercreeper has been banned for sale by the Maryland Department of Agriculture since 2018 as a Tier 1 invasive plant, established plants in the region can still mature enough to produce fruit (berries) that wildlife then inadvertently spreads into natural areas. Long a popular landscaping groundcover due to those vibrantly green leaves (and the variegated forms for their color), I always recommend removal and replacement with alternatives, preferably a medley of native species instead.
As with English ivy, it’s safest for the tree to simply sever the climbing wintercreeper stems’ connection with the roots in the ground and let them slough off the trunk on their own as they dry out and disintegrate. Even though they attach via root-like structures, those aren’t functional roots and no moisture or nutrients are absorbed by them. Pull up, smother (deny them light), or spray any running stems covering the ground. As with any tenacious weed, eradicating an established patch of this species may take time and repeated efforts at removal before finally being successful. Be vigilant, because birds could always re-introduce it in a future year. (Invasive plants…the gift that keeps on giving.)
By Miri Talabac, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Miri writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun and Washington Gardener Magazine. Read more by Miri.
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