Members of the Metchosin Invasive Species Cooperative – Brenda West, left, Bonnie Farris, Neil West and Mark Atherton – hunt down English holly in Matheson Lake Provincial Park. (Kevin Laird – Sooke News Mirror)

Members of the Metchosin Invasive Species Cooperative – Brenda West, left, Bonnie Farris, Neil West and Mark Atherton – hunt down English holly in Matheson Lake Provincial Park. (Kevin Laird – Sooke News Mirror)

Invasive English holly poses threat to Island’s eco-system

Not so jolly holly, say conservationists, as invasive species attacks indigenous plants

Neil West bends down and buries his fingers into the forest floor and picks up a handful of English Holly. He can’t resist the opportunity to kill it.

English Holly is a non-native plant, and leaving it to propagate will only lead to more problems for indigenous species.

On this rainy day in mid-December, English holly foliage with red berries flanks a trail at Matheson Lake Regional Park in Metchosin. To a passerby, the sylvan landscape may appear verdant and healthy. Not so to West and partner Mark Atherton.

Together, they work at destroying the holly, often one shoot at a time, but always with the plan to rid the forest of the green menace.

ALSO READ: Spread of invasive species in Canada costs billions, changes environment

Atherton, chairman of the Metchosin parks and trails advisory committee and a retired forester, admitted he has nothing against English holly just a great desire to control it.

“The holly is controllable,” he said. “It’s better to deal with it now versus 30 years down the road.”

The two men met two years ago when West brought scientific studies and anecdotal evidence of the proliferation of the holly.

West told the story of hiking in the park 10 years ago and coming up to a thicket of English holly, and the only way to transverse it was through a tunnel of prickly holly leaves.

At first Atherton was not convinced there was a holly problem, but once he took a walk through the woods with West, he also saw the problem of the plant’s spread.

English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is grown for its bright red berries and spiny, dark green evergreen foliage. A large shrub or small tree, English holly has become a serious invasive because of its adaptability to grow in shade or sun, and the ease with which its seeds are spread by birds.

ALSO READ: Japanese knotweed has come to Sooke, and that’s a problem

Seedlings are commonly found in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests on the Island, along the edges of wetlands and especially near residential areas.

English holly grows rapidly seven to 10 metres tall, casting deep shade that deprives native plants of light. Its roots effectively out-compete many native species for nutrients and water; it is a notorious water hog, preventing native plants from obtaining sufficient water. It can grow from seed (in berries) and vegetatively.

Don Hare, executive director of the Coastal Invasive Species Committee, believes English holly has the potential to begin rapidly spreading on Vancouver Island, with conditions almost identical to the Pacific Northwest forest region of the U.S.

There are an estimated 400 English holly sites on Vancouver Island covering an area of more than 300 hectares. Coastal Invasive Species Committee this year has concentrated on destroying large groves of English Holly on Newcastle Island near Nanaimo and in the Comox Valley

The English holly tree is dioecious, with only the females producing berries. Birds and small animals eat the berries and disperse the seeds throughout the range.

The life expectancy of trees are approximately 250 years.

“It doesn’t look like anything eats this or attempts to scavenge it, and that is very worrisome when you don’t have any natural controls on it,” Hare said.

For West, the most troubling aspect of the holly is its ability to double its biomass every six years.

“The six years we’ve been doing this it has gotten way ahead us,” West said. “Last year alone, we noticed hundreds and hundreds of shoots at Matheson Lake.”

Fighting the battle are volunteers like West and Atherton and the Metchosin Invasive Species Cooperative.

They take on the removal of English holly regularly combining elbow grease and physics, and their tools include saws, loppers, pruners, shears and tree pullers. In the three Metchosin parks the volunteers have worked on, the group has come close to eradicating it in two and is well on its way in a third.

The tallest holly tree they’ve brought down stood more than 40 feet, but trees start producing berries when they’re about a three feet tall.

If Metchosin and East Sooke are the target of the Metchosin Invasive Species Cooperative, then the Sooke Hills might be ground zero.

While pretty much every municipal and regional park in the Capital Regional District are dealing with some sort of invasive infestation, from Scotch broom to Himalayan blackberry, many ignore English holly. Case in point: in the Sooke Hills the holly is taking hold in places like the Sooke Potholes and Mount Wells Regional Park. Sooke, Highlands and the CRD are slow in protecting many of those areas from the invasive holly, West said.

“If significant action isn’t taken to control the spread of holly, I think it has the potential to become a significantly larger problem than Scottish broom,” West said.



editor@sookenewsmirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

•••

SIDEBAR

Want to help rid Vancouver Island forests of English holly?

The Metchosin Invasive Species Cooperative is always looking for volunteers, or hikers who have come across large thickets of holly in the Sooke Region.

You can contact the cooperative by email at metchosininvasives@gmail.com.

The cooperative is also sending out a special thank you to Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which provided a $1,000 grant to buy several Pullerbear tools for use in the battle against invasive plants.

The Pullerbears are available to borrow free of charge to any volunteer group or private property owners if they wish to use them to remove invasives.

– Kevin Laird

 

Neil West stands next to an English holly tree. The spread of the plant has conservationists worried. (Brenda West photo)

Neil West stands next to an English holly tree. The spread of the plant has conservationists worried. (Brenda West photo)

Just Posted

The price of gas is way up in many parts of Greater Victoria after a Monday afternoon surge sent it to 162.9 cents per litre. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gas prices surge to 162.9 cents a litre at some Greater Victoria stations

Prices jumped up more than 10 cents Monday afternoon

Swanwick Ranch in Metchosin, featuring an award-winning home on 67 acres of property overlooking the ocean, recently sold for a record-setting, yet undisclosed amount. (Sotheby’s International Realty Canada photo)
Sale of oceanfront property in Metchosin yields new record for Greater Victoria

Listed at $14.1 million, Swanwick Ranch sold to an undisclosed buyer

The number of skilled trades workers available is not enough to fill the current construction boom in Greater Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Influx of skilled tradespeople falling behind Greater Victoria construction boom

Thousands of positions will be needed by 2030, despite flow of Camosun trades students

Research into the city of Victoria’s economic recovery through the pandemic shows things to be moving in the right direction. (Photo courtesy City of Victoria)
Data shows Victoria experiencing gradual economic recovery

Statistics for early 2021 show promising returns as Victoria 3.0 begins to take hold

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

Most Read