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UMW: Student project aimed at removing campus ivy

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Maggie Magliato cuts down invasive ivy from a tree on the University of Mary Washington campus. The ivy strangles native plants and prevents tree growth. A freshman at UMW, Magliato is a member of Greenhouse, a college community for eco-minded students. / Photo by Rhonda Vanover

Maggie Magliato cuts down invasive ivy from a tree on the University of Mary Washington campus. The ivy strangles native plants and prevents tree growth. A freshman at UMW, Magliato is a member of Greenhouse, a college community for eco-minded students. / Photo by Rhonda Vanover

To freshman Maggie Magliato, the University of Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus isn’t just a school, it’s a thriving ecosystem.

On a recent Sunday she spotted the first blue jay of spring on the way to brunch in Seacobeck Hall, “and I got so excited,” she said.

But the English ivy, which covers the ground and climbs trees and academic buildings on campus, doesn’t contribute aesthetically to the school’s collegiate character for her. Magliato, an environmental science major, knows the ivy is an invasive species that strangles the biodiversity of the campus’ ecosystem.

So Magliato, with the help of the campus’ Greenhouse community—of which she is a member—has begun a project to remove much of the ivy from UMW.

For five hours on a recent Sunday, the group tore ivy from the ground and trees near the UMW entrance on Sunken Road.

Magliato used saws and clippers to remove the ivy by severing the vine from its roots and pulling it off trees, rolling up sections that cover the wooded floor like a carpet and sending it all to be composted by the school’s grounds department.

The Greenhouse is one of five current living–learning communities at UMW. The community is made up of 93 freshmen who live together in Randolph Hall. They take a first-year seminar course together and are required to complete a service project like Magliato’s.

With Magliato that Sunday morning were Greenhouse founder, sophomore Kathryn Erwin, and member Joe Dragone, a freshman.

Dragone’s Greenhouse project, which Magliato will in turn help him with, will be cleaning up the trash-choked stream that flows past Woodard Campus Center.

He will also be reinforcing the storm water system next to Woodard to ensure the runoff reaching the Chesapeake Bay is clean.

He, like Magliato, spent most of his time on the ivy project with a saw, cutting through ivy roots as thick as an arm from American Beech trees.

Those trees—which are native and have become a part of the campus as a place where students carve their initials—and native loblolly pines are among those Magliato wants to protect.

Erwin said getting ivy off the trees wasn’t such an arduous task after trying out different techniques.

Erwin established the Greenhouse community last year, when she began at UMW.

“It’s great to be able to work all year to develop skills and their passion for the environment,” she said.

Freshmen, she said, develop their own project ideas, and she doesn’t mind what they embark on as long as it has an impact on the area and they are passionate about it.

“This project, it’s all Maggie,” she said.

The dense ivy cover on that side of campus takes over space where native plants could grow. And even though the ivy is a ground cover, it also branches into vines that grow up trees and buildings.

The ivy’s dendrites can get into building cracks and widen, and take away valuable resources from trees.

“By helping the trees, we’re helping the birds, too,” Magliato said while uprooting ivy. “Right now I can hear a woodpecker, and that bird will benefit from this.”

Alan Griffith, professor of biology at UMW, said the problem with invasive species is two-pronged.

By displacing native plants, it decreases the population size of other species in an area.

But it also decreases species diversity. Since the ivy is so successful, fewer species of plants can take root.

He said that people earlier chose English ivy for landscaping because of its appearance and its successful growth rate. But other, native pants can work just as well in a garden.

He said people who go to a landscaper or garden center should ask an important question. “Say ‘I’m interested in planting native plants. What native plants meet my needs?’”

He also recommended finding plants that are good at sustaining soil and water conservation.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said. “We came here from other places and people brought plants with them. That’s fine, it’s natural to do that, but the problem arises when those plants decrease the native population.”

And ivy isn’t the only invasive species to propagate on the campus. Joni Wilson, campus director of landscape and grounds, said dealing with invasive species on campus is a daily chore.

While mitigating the ivy is one such task, she said it has been in the area so long that it has become important to preventing soil erosion and cannot be removed in some places, like behind Trinkle Hall, where it thrives.

She uses service projects like Magliato’s, the annual Good Neighbor Day and area organizations to keep the ivy in check.

Just as troublesome as that plant, though, is Ailanthus altissima, more commonly known as “tree of heaven,” which has moved in on campus in the last decade.

Wilson said the tree spreads more seeds than most and takes root easily in new areas.

“Pay attention to all of the tree lines in Caroline County,” she said. “It’s everywhere.”

Privet, a flowering bush, is another invasive species Wilson has a hard time controlling. Years ago, a landscaper planted a hedge of privet, and while that hedge is maintained, its offshoots are collected and composted.

In her landscaping, Wilson makes an effort to include only native plants.

One area she is particularly proud of is the landscaping around the Anderson Center and U.S. 1.

“All of that landscaping is native,” she said. “And it has the university’s first native perennial bed. It’s a real commitment to native, sustainable planting.”

Flox, baptisia and inkberry are among the flowering native plants included in the bed.

Magliato’s project is one of the ways Wilson can continue that commitment. But Magliato doesn’t see the project as simple mitigation. She said she’s learning from it, too.

“I’ve always been someone who loves the outdoors in nature,” she said. “It seemed natural to go into conservation. Doing things outdoors like this helps me get hands-on experience.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

 

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