Running with Scissors

May 5, 2021 · 2 minute read
Running with Scissors

Knowledge of invasive species can really be a bummer in some of the woods in the Richmond area. The more you learn, the more you discover that much of what you see are plants that do little to help habitat. Instead, they choke out the native plants that are good for wildlife.

Non-native English ivy blanketing trees in the James River Park.

I’ve found it satisfying to help with big invasive species-removal projects: cutting English ivy vines growing up trees, clearing privet in the understory of the woods, and cutting down ailanthus trees. It feels satisfying to take on a large project and slowly see the native trees coming back.

I’ve also accidentally stumbled upon another way to give a little help, with just a few plants at a time.

This last winter I was working a little on a local trail. I enjoy trail running, and this trail had an uncomfortable amount of greenbrier closing in. I stashed a folding handsaw and pruners in my pack, planning a little trail work break during my run.  A few miles later, I noticed some English ivy growing up a beautiful old oak tree, and I had just the tools I needed to stop it.  I took a rest and cut the ivy off of a half dozen trees. 

Since then it has been quite satisfying to run by this tree and see the ivy slowly drying up and dying.  

Don’t let this — greenbrier run amok — happen to your favorite patch of woods.

Now I carry the saw and handpruners on more of my runs. Instead of big invasive removal projects, I’ll just whittle away at a few vines on a few trees each trip out.  Over time the trees will slowly be released from the ivy.

Tools of the invasive-killing trade.

Name your outdoor activity: mountain biking, bird watching, rock climbing. Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be hard to stick a couple of tools in your pack (maybe in a scabbard if you are at risk of falling down), take a little trail break, and release a few trees from their vines. You may even find that it’s hard to put your tools away and move on! 

Note from the author: I’ve received some great, critical feedback to “Running with Scissors.” The feedback is important enough that I feel the need to add some points that were brought to my attention.

Greenbrier is a native plant that does give habitat benefit. It’s not fun on trails but should be left in other places where it grows naturally. 

Trail work and invasive species removal should not be done without property owners or managers’ consent. They probably want some oversight to make sure that it is done correctly.

​If somebody is doing in ivy cutting and removal without training, they can cause significant damage to trees. 

​Rogue trail work can also cause more harm than good. It’s best left for professionals and trained volunteer groups.

There are great volunteer opportunities for trail work and invasive removal if you are interested in helping out.

Thanks to those who took the time to send in their comments!