Geraldine Saw, a Snohomish County Noxious Weed Control Board coordinator, cuts a sample of Atlantic ivy from the Forgotten Creek Natural Area on Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Geraldine Saw, a Snohomish County Noxious Weed Control Board coordinator, cuts a sample of Atlantic ivy from the Forgotten Creek Natural Area on Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

State waging war with tenacious ivy, an invasive ‘bully’

The public is being asked to help with a study by collecting and sending in samples.

SNOHOMISH — Cathy Clark has been on her Fobes Hill property for more than 20 years.

The retired teacher has been battling ivy for much of that time.

“I’d tackle one area every summer vacation and it just became an obsession,” she said. “I would get one little triangle absolutely ivy-free, and that was something to celebrate.”

She’s not alone. When it comes to ivy infestation, Snohomish County is one of the hardest-hit areas of Washington, according to the state Noxious Weed Control Board.

The board is seeking the public’s help in collecting ivy samples for a study. There are hundreds of varieties. Most local invasions get called English ivy, but some might be Atlantic ivy, said Wendy DesCamp, who is working on the outreach efforts. The results of the study will be used to drive policy recommendations, she said.

“We want to know which one’s the problem and if that plant is being sold, we want to help support stopping the sale of those plants,” she said.

More than 50 samples have arrived so far from throughout Western Washington, but few from Snohomish County. Researchers are hoping to see more before the Dec. 15 deadline.

Ivy is “easy to recognize even if you’re not a plant person,” DesCamp said. “It’s all around us. Kids grow up with it in storybooks.”

Yet it can be harmful to the environment and property, especially trees, power lines and fences. It reduces biodiversity and harbors vermin.

Locally, the state team reached out to Geraldine Saw, a coordinator with Snohomish County’s Noxious Weed Control Board. Saw connected them with the various city parks programs.

Ivy is common around here in parks, protected natural areas, woodlands and vacant lots, Saw said. She likens it to a neighborhood bully.

“We don’t actively go out to control it,” she said. “We just tell people not to buy it, not to share it and not to plant it in their yard.”

That means no ivy hostess gifts and no supporting roles in bouquets, either.

As alternatives for ground cover, Saw recommends climbing hydrangea, native kinnikinnick (sometimes called Bearberry) and beach strawberry.

If it’s too late and the ivy has taken over, cut each vine at shoulder height and ankle height, she said. Pull it from the ground and discard the material into the yard waste bin, or it might reroot.

Ivy has proven a popular target for volunteer work parties. On Oct. 7, Boy Scouts Troop 312 out of Edmonds sent a crew to Meadowdale Beach Park. Some of the Scouts were earning service hours for the 50-Miler Award. They also were celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mount Baker Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

About 14 boys and relatives pitched in. They collected more than a ton of ivy.

Meanwhile, back on Fobes Hill, Clark won’t use herbicides.

That makes her ivy removal extra intensive. She’s deployed a chain saw at times. It irks her to see the plant sold at nurseries.

“It’s absolutely tenacious,” she said. “It’s so successful with killing everything it touches, and it spreads extremely rapidly.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @rikkiking.

Send samples

The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board is asking for help collecting samples of wild invasive ivy. Clip 1-2 stems from your property, bag them and mail them in, along with location information.

Don’t collect samples without permission from property owners. On public lands, stick to trails. Permits are available for state parks.

Mail the sample to Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, Attn: Ivy Study, P.O Box 42560, Olympia, WA, 98504-2560. Consider emailing an accompanying photo. The deadline is Dec. 15.

For detailed instructions, or more information, go to, 360-725-5764.

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