Although trees are individual organisms, they often harbor entire ecosystems under their canopies. Dozens of insects, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians commonly inhabit trees, and several plant species even grow on living trees.
Climbing vines are some of the most common plants to colonize trees, and they can often be seen growing from the soil all the way up into the canopy. Some people find these vines attractive, while others wish their trees would remain free of vines and other plants entirely.
But while personal tastes vary, those on both sides of the climbing vine divide often have a similar concern: Do the vines harm the trees? We’ll dig into this question and explore the potential ways in which these vines may cause trouble below.
Problems Caused by Climbing Vines
Climbing vines can damage trees, but that doesn’t mean they always do or must always be removed. In actuality, a number of factors will determine whether or not a tree is harmed by a climbing vine.
Some of the ways in which climbing vines can cause harm include:
- Climbing vines can become quite heavy over time. This additional weight can cause branches to break, or, in extreme cases, exceed the carrying capacity of the trunk and lead to complete failure.
- Climbing vines often cling tenaciously to the bark. If the vines are later pulled away from the tree, large swaths of bark can be pulled off in the process. This leaves the tree’s delicate cambium and phloem vulnerable to desiccation, disease and
- Climbing vines trap moisture near the trunk and branches. Fungi typically prefer to grow in damp conditions, and by trapping moisture near the bark, ivy can encourage fungal colonization and eventual decay.
- Climbing vines can wrap tightly around the trunk or branches and constrict a tree’s phloem. Phloem is a narrow band of living tissue just underneath the bark, which is primarily responsible for transporting the sugars produced in the leaves to the roots. By cutting off this movement of resources, climbing vines effectively “strangle” trees.
- Climbing vines can shield parts of the tree from the sun. When parts of a tree are denied sunlight, they are often sealed off by the rest of the tree and discarded (shed). These lost tissues reduce the availability of resources and weaken the tree significantly.
Should Climbing Vines Be Removed?
Because they can cause damage to their host trees, many climbing vines should be removed. However, there are a number of cases in which they can be allowed to persist if you like the way they look or would just rather avoid the effort and expense necessary to remove them.
For example, large trees may not be seriously affected by a limited amount of ivy growing on the lower trunk – particularly if the ivy doesn’t reach into the canopy. A reasonable maintenance plan could be put in place to keep them from climbing too high, and regular inspections could increase the likelihood of spotting subtle symptoms that indicate the vine is stressing the tree. If so, the vines could then be removed.
It is also important to note that different species of climbing vines represent different degrees of danger. Some are almost always harmful to trees, while others rarely cause problems and can usually be left in place. Additionally, you’ll want to consider the wildlife value of the vines in question and any potential danger represented by the vines (poison ivy, for example, can take the form of a climbing vine) when making your decision.
If vines are starting to take over some of your trees, give your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants a call. We’ll examine the trees in question, determine whether the vines are weakening or stressing the tree and recommend a prudent management strategy. As with most other tree concerns, prompt action and regular inspections are the best way to keep your trees healthy and looking their best.