The term habitat destruction probably brings to mind bull dozers in a rain forest, but the equivalent is occurring in our beloved Forest Hill Park where English ivy and other non-native plants are rapidly replacing our native plant species. They arrived here years ago, have found conditions in urban areas ideal for growth, and are now out of control. It has become botanical land grab.
English ivy (Hedera helix) seems to be the greatest threat to our park. On the ground it covers ferns and small wild flowers. The thick, evergreen ground cover blocks light, making it difficult for new seedlings to sprout and even alters soil conditions which can suppress the growth of those that do sprout. As the ivy climbs, it smothers small shrubs and will threaten trees if the load becomes too large. It also competes with our native plants for food and water. Large areas soon become a monoculture – just ivy, not much else. This decrease in plant diversity will not provide adequate food and shelter for the wild creatures that depend on native plants for their existence; the damage is occurring now.
Like many other non-native plants that are now considered invasive, English ivy was brought to this country as an ornamental, perhaps as long ago as the late 1700’s. At first there were no problems. The plant covered walls and small areas of gardens, requiring little effort on the part of the gardener. Neighbors probably shared plants as we do today, the birds spread the seed, and the plant began to appear in disturbed urban soils everywhere. The result is that today, in the city of Richmond, you are never far away from English ivy. This plant is a serious threat. If we do nothing, English ivy, Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, wintercreeper and other non-native species will continue to consume acre after acre. However, there are some things we can do to stop the spread of these plants.
Do not allow English ivy to grow up trees or any vertical surface. This applies to our own yards and our public spaces. When ivy grows vertically, it matures, forming flowers and fruit. Birds eat the fruit and spread the seed to other locations. (It’s also not good for the trees!)
Learn to recognize English ivy seedlings and remove them when they are small. This is important and so easy!
Join Friends of Forest Hill Park for invasive removal projects in the park.
Choose native species for planting on your own property. All non-native plants have the potential to become a problem in the future. By planting native species we can prevent this from occurring, increase diversity, and support our wild creatures.
The next time you are in the park, ponder this: What would you rather see when you enjoy the outdoors? English ivy covering the ground and trees with patches of privet and honeysuckle in between? Or would it be mighty oaks, tulip poplars, and other big trees with an understory of pawpaw, service berry, muscle wood, and native azalea, and with ferns, mosses, spring beauty, wild ginger and twin flower covering the ground, AND the wildlife this would support! The choice is yours.
The woodland plant known as the mayapple is not an apple and blooms before May in our area. Another common “umbrella plant” is a less used but is a more accurate description. You can see this for yourself now in Forest Hill Park and other wooded parks in Richmond. The leaves unfurl just like an umbrella does when opened.
Mayapple spreads by rhizomes (underground stems that send out roots and shoots), forming colonies that may actually be one individual plant. These plants are unique in that they usually have only one leaf on the stalk. Occasionally the plant will send up a stalk with two leaves; this one is a fertile leaf which will flower and fruit.
The leaves, stems, roots, and flowers are poisonous, but were used by Native Americans and are still used in some herbal remedies today. (The taste must be pretty bad since deer don’t often browse these plants!) Within the last few years there has been an effort to produce chemotherapeutic drugs from the toxic chemicals this plant produces. So who uses this plant? Bees collect pollen and possibly get some nectar. The small fruit is edible when fully ripe and can be used for jams and jellies, however there is little fruit to be had in the small colonies that exist here today. Let’s leave that for the box turtles; they like the fruit!
This is where you can learn about the vast variety of plant and animal-life that makes Forest Hill Park its home.