Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Ivy Takes Over

Ever since we’ve lived in this particular apartment in Brooklyn, the ivy has been taking over the building. Lately, it’s begun to look as though the ivy might succeed in eating the building whole. It’s gobbled up the back wall as it's climbed the bricks.

And it’s almost completely covered up our windows, suctioning itself to the screens.

Even more lately, the ivy has managed to push its way inside our dining room.

Sound like something out of a science fiction book? It’s just another creepy chapter in the life of English Ivy.

English Ivy—Latin name Hedera helix, and also known as Gum Ivy, True Ivy, and Woodbind—originated in Northern Africa, West Asia and Europe. It was brought to our continent by English settlers in the 18th century. They thought it was pretty. Did they know it was an invasive species, destined to take over cities and forests? Did they care??

English Ivy is so invasive that experts say it threatens native plants and trees. If a tree is covered with ivy, it doesn’t get enough sunlight to achieve photosynthesis. After a while, it withers up and dies. What about (non-living) buildings? If a building is covered in ivy, the ivy eventually begins to gnaw away at the mortar between the bricks, and the bricks themselves. If you try to pull the ivy off, you risk pulling out bits of the building, too.

This excellent article explains how ivy grows. Here’s a riveting excerpt:

“First, the plant makes initial contact with the object it will climb. This then triggers the second phase, when the plant's roots change shape to fit the surface of the structure they will climb. The roots alter their arrangement to increase their area of contact with the wall. Small structures called root hairs grow out from the root, coming into contact with the climbing surface. The plant then excretes a glue to anchor it to the substrate. Finally, the tiny root hairs fit into tiny cavities within the climbing surface. There, they dry out, scrunching into a spiral-shape that locks the root hair into place.”

Apparently, this lets the ivy hold on even when the plant is dead. What do you think, are we doomed in Brooklyn?

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