It isn’t easy being a Flowering Dogwood, White Oak, or other native tree in Northern Virginia. There are many threats to trees in an urban/suburban environment, but one that is quickly becoming the most worrisome is also one that can be averted by taking quick action: the loss of trees to invasive non-native vines. In their native setting, vines are meant to grow on trees and are an important part of the ecosystem. When they are imported from other continents, though, they can take off out of control and kill trees. This is what we are now seeing everywhere we look.
In our residential areas, the most common invasive vine is English Ivy. Once it climbs up a tree, it flowers and goes to seed, and the birds carry its berries onto everyone else’s properties, including into our parks and along our roadsides. Its stems and thick foliage weigh down trees and eventually brings them down. Other non-native invasives such as Japanese Honeysuckle and Asian Wisteria strangle trees by twisting around their trunks, and smother them by blocking light to their leaves. At a very rough estimate, there may be as many as three million trees in Northern Virginia that are at risk for dying unless we take action soon.
There are several ways that residents can help.
On your own property, rescue trees from non-native vines by cutting the vine at the base, being careful to avoid disturbing native vines such as Virginia Creeper, whose berries are an important food source for migrating birds. Details can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website.
On commercial properties, check out the natural areas at the perimeter to see if the trees there are at risk, and have your landscaping company take care of it. Volunteers are available to help the crews determine which vines to treat.
Volunteer in the parks to help control the vines, or donate money to pay for professional treatment. Most parks host group volunteer events. Fairfax County Park Authority also has a training program to train people who want to rescue trees by themselves.
Be careful not to include invasive plants in your own landscaping, as they escape into the wild and ruin our natural areas. Many alternative plants for landscaping can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website.