If a Milkweed is a Bully, is it still Beneficial?

At first, I thought morning glory (Ipomoea L.) was twisting over and through the swamp rose (Rosa palustris), a Maryland native growing in my rain garden. It had those unmistakable (or in this case, mistakable) heart-shaped leaves, and morning glory has been creeping everywhere since I planted three seeds 18 years ago. In these parts, the annual morning glory is a definite perennial.

Creeping noiselessly over, under, and through a swamp rose is the poorly behaved honey vine and its dangling milky pod.

Creeping over and through a swamp rose is the beneficial bully honeyvine.

But then, I spotted milky pods — and the garden plot thickened. :)

Turns out my swamp rose is in the grip of honeyvine (Cynanchum leave), a member of the milkweed family, that not only attracts bees, birds, and butterflies, including monarchs for which it serves as host to its young, it’s drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Oh, and people hate it.

Because it’s a bully. I’m convinced that plants are every bit as complicated as people.

An 11"-by-11" painting made with pigments from  Rosa multiflora, Mahonia bealei, Lonicera maackii and weed soot on paper from Morus alba. Acer platanus

An 11″-by-11″ painting made, in part, with multiflora rosa (Rosa multiflora), bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), and white mulberry (Morus alba).

And while we’re on the subject of invasives … we are, aren’t we? … Washington Post illustrator and volunteer land steward, Patterson Clark pulls invasives in mass quantities from public and private lands in Washington, DC. Then he does something remarkable: He processes all that noxious plant material into pigment and paper and makes art.

You can see Clark’s weed work at the Atrium Gallery in McLean, VA, from September 11-October 25.

And so I have to ask: Mr. Clark, do you walk by honeyvine or turn it into art?

The Ivy Takedown

One of the most satisfying garden tasks (or any kind of task, for that matter) is to grab an ivy vine on the ground and, with a simple tug, pull out long strands of the stuff. Its roots are shallow, so in no time, you have an armful. Yeah, invasive eradication!


After many hours pulling up ivy on my third acre over many years, it remains. And will do so long after I’m gone, no doubt.


It’s best to cut ivy vines when they first head up and are relatively thin.

But while ivy patches remain on the ground, on my watch, vines won’t be allowed to grow up — not up my house or my serviceberries and other trees. That’s because English and Irish ivy (we have both in our area) smother branches and keep trees from leafing out. The vines weaken trees and increase the chance that they’ll blow over in a storm. In time, ivy kills the trees it climbs.

If that wasn’t enough reason to keep ivy from growing up, here’s another: Ivy also only flowers and produces seeds when vertical. Birds then eat the seeds, which pass through and get dropped in areas where ivy isn’t — and so the menace spreads.


If you wait too long, saws will be needed to cut through the thick vines.

Getting ivy off your trees is not, however, a simple matter of pulling.

You’ll want to use clippers or pruners to cut ivy around the entire trunk, separating the vines from the roots. To guard against another infestation anytime soon, experts recommend clearing a two-foot “lifesaver ring” around the tree. And don’t give in to the temptation to pull the cut vines from the tree; this will likely cause more damage. Enjoy the view over the next months as the ivy crinkles, turns brown, and eventually falls off.

Ask how Solar Mowing can help clear your trees and shrubs of ivy. Together, we can take it down.