FIELD NOTES: Holly and ivy, butterfly count and more

  • Monday, July 2, 2018 12:06pm
  • News
Christopher Van Putten cuts invasive ivy off the trunk of a tree in Burton Acres Park. (Chris Woods Photo)

Christopher Van Putten cuts invasive ivy off the trunk of a tree in Burton Acres Park. (Chris Woods Photo)

“The Holly and the Ivy” is a traditional British Christmas carol that conjures up thoughts of a holiday hearth even while basking in the immediate afterglow of the summer solstice. Second only to Christmas trees, holly and ivy are the iconic evergreens of Western winter solstice celebrations from the Romans’ Saturnalia through Druid Midwinter to current Christian holidays. These plants remain green throughout the short, dark days of winter, and generations have found comfort in cultivating them. Holly decks our halls, and ivy covers some of our most esteemed walls.

Deep cultural attachments to these symbolic plants may account for the reluctance to see them as an immediate threat to our ecosystem. English holly, English ivy and their associated species are invasive plants in the Pacific Northwest. Tom Dean, executive director of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, names holly and ivy as the two biggest threats to Vashon’s forests: “Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry are bad, but they can be shaded out. Holly and ivy thrive in the forest understory.”

Holly escaped from life as a ubiquitous landscape plant to become a forest scourge by conspiring with birds, (looking at you, robins), that chow down on their ripe, red berries and then “deposit” them in the woods.

Ivy is still sold as a “fast-spreading ground cover,” which is code for invasive. Like holly, birds spread its berries, but it also creeps along the ground, displacing native plants and causing “ivy desertification.” Plus, ivy has a third trick — it shimmies up trees. Garden writer Ann Lovejoy notes that ivy can stunt the growth of trees that aren’t adapted to it or are suffering from other environmental stresses. She adds, “Like a sail, high-climbing ivy catches wind, causing even healthy trees to snap.”

Ivy and holly have infiltrated most of Vashon’s forests. Ivy is rampant throughout Burton Acres Park, where it is displacing native plants such as vanilla-leaf and starflower.

Holly and ivy didn’t establish themselves on Vashon overnight, and they may never be eradicated, but a concerted community effort could curb their expansion and beat them back in critical areas.

As part of his commitment to service and stewardship, Vashon resident Christopher Van Putten is doing his part by setting a goal to remove ivy from one tree per day. Working about an hour a month, he’s cleared more than 1700 trees in the five years since he graduated from college.

Here are some tips and ways to help:

• Ivy on trees should be cut off around shoulder height and pulled off and away from the trunk below the cut. The ivy above the cut will die off.

• Holly can be pulled or cut, but any remaining stump must be treated with a stump-killer or it will re-grow. Concentrate on the female, berry-producing plants.

• Make a plan to devote a set time, such as an hour a month, to eliminating ivy and holly around your home.

• Organize a group within your neighborhood to police invasives around mailboxes and other communal areas.

• Plant native species once areas have been cleared. Land Trust and King Conservation District plant sales are a great source for these.

• Volunteer for a work party to combat invasives on public lands. Chautauqua Elementary’s science coordinator Amy Bogaard organizes a Green Team that keeps the school’s forest and pond free of invasives; or sign up with the Land Trust to join regular clean-up crews led by Caitlin Ames.

Join island’s Butterfly Count this weekend:

If it seems like you’re seeing more butterflies this year than in the past, you’re not imagining things. Vashon’s resident butterfly authority, Rayna Holtz, has been hearing anecdotal reports of abundant butterflies all spring. She says an unusually dry May caused greater numbers of pale tiger swallowtails to emerge and survive, which was followed a few weeks later by more western tiger swallowtails than normal. The pale ones are white to cream colored with nearly as much black as white, and the western ones are yellow and have narrower black striping.

There have also been more sightings of red admirals, Lorquin’s admirals and echo azures — the small blue butterflies that emerged in April. Holtz expects a second brood of fresh azure specimens will appear soon.

To learn more about Vashon’s butterflies, join the 22nd Vashon Butterfly Count on Saturday, July 7. It promises to be a good one, is open to all, and no expertise is needed. Please see the Field Notes Calendar, at left, for details.

Upcoming Events:

Saturday, July 7

Vashon Butterfly Count

Join the 22nd Vashon Island Butterfly Count on Maury Island. Participants will be looking for Lorquin’s admirals, swallowtails, satyr anglewings and blues. Bring binoculars, water and lunch. Wear a hat and layer clothing for a range of temperatures. Come for all or part of the day. Call Rayna Holtz at 206-463-3153 for more info or to find out how to count butterflies in your backyard.

9 a.m. Meet in the parking lot of Maury Island Regional Park, 5101 SW 244th Street.

Thursday & fRiday, July 12 & 13

BeachNET surveys

Help scientists and volunteers monitor shoreline restoration, ocean acidification and forage fish eggs on Vashon. Contact Maria Metler for information on times, meeting locations, or to sign up:

9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 14

Low Tide Celebration

Join the 13th annual Vashon-Maury Island Low Tide Celebration at the Point Robinson Lighthouse. Enjoy beach walks with Vashon Beach naturalists, lighthouse tours with Captain Joe, information on marine wildlife, children’s activities and food from Orca Eats. Paddle boards and aqua viewers available. A complimentary shuttle bus will run along Point Robinson Road to the beach from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Low tide is -3.5 at 12.30 p.m. Contact:

10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 14

Vashon Audubon Field Trip

Birding on the island. Drop in, no charge, and no experience necessary. Bring binoculars and scopes if you have them and wear walking shoes or boots. Kids must be accompanied by a parent or other adult. Carpools encouraged and can be arranged at Ober Park.

8 to 10 a.m. Meet at Ober Park & Ride lot. See .


Cliff-nesting surveys

Help Vashon Nature scientists document the use of beach cliffs by nesting birds like Pigeon guillemots, northern rough-winged swallows and kingfishers. Survey season will run for approximately 10 weeks. You do not need to be able to do every weekend. No previous birding experience needed. Volunteers must provide their own binoculars or birding scope.

Contact Maria Metler

Wildlife on Vashon

The four fledgeling barn owls are spending more time outside at night and are getting ready for their first flights. Watch live-streaming video from inside and outside the nest box at

Many baby birds and animals are venturing out for the first time and can get hurt. If you find an injured bird or animal go to to learn what to do and how to locate a wildlife rehabilitation expert.

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