How can I check if a tree would have been killed by ivy?
April 21, 2014 8:55 AM   Subscribe

There is a plot of land near me that will now be built on, because the large tree growing on it was being killed by ivy. How do I check if this was true?

The land contained a big tree and was wrapped by ivy. It seemed quite healthy: it looked like a normal tree with leaves in spring and summer and a normal trunk. But I'm no expert.

I suspect the story about the ivy killing the tree may not be quite true: there are strong financial incentives to get cut down the tree and build on the land.

The tree has already been cut down, and what is left is the stump, and parts of the trunk chopped up by a chainsaw. Is there anything I can look for now to verify the story with the ivy?
posted by devnull to Science & Nature (10 answers total)
I doubt you could tell anything on your own. An arborist might be able to tell something, but also might not, given what you describe as left.

Your question is a bit unclear as the chain of events here. In my community, which has very strict limits on cutting mature trees, an arborist would have had to certify the need for the removal of the tree prior to cutting. What happened leading up to the cutting? Perhaps there is a report detailing the health of the tree prior to removal.
posted by JohnLewis at 9:03 AM on April 21, 2014

I think the easy answer would be "ask an arborist"; they may be able to look at the stump to assess the tree's former level of health.

Was the tree's health assessed prior to removal? If so, were there any interim control options (e.g. removing the ivy) that could have brought the tree back to health? Were these actions taken?

Why was it that the land could not be built on while the tree was alive? (e.g. the tree was an endangered species, or provided habitat to an endangered species; the town has an ordinance limiting removal of specific trees; a trust or deed restriction was in force that protected the tree; some other scenario)

What level of proof do you require? Are you taking someone to court if the tree was in fact brought down with malice aforethought, or making the matter public in some way? Or is this just for your personal knowledge?

Have you already checked with the town's offices (zoning, planning, development, etc.) to see what the paperwork looks like? In some jurisdictions cutting down trees is A-OK and no permits are needed, but that certainly isn't the case everywhere.
posted by pie ninja at 9:09 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you know what type of ivy it was and what type of tree it was? In my area it is common to see english ivy (an evergreen ivy) growing up the trunks of trees. I personally have not seen a tree killed by this type of ivy. It generally doesn't wrap around the trunk and constrict it like other vines (invasive bittersweet, wisteria, to name a few).

Do you have a recent picture of the tree in summer when it is fully leafed out? An arborist might be able to say something based on that picture. A picture in winter might also be helpful if it shows the extent of the ivy vines.

One other idea. You or an arborist could look carefully at the width of the tree rings in the remaining trunk. There are lots of variables (temperature, precipitation, length of growing season) that can affect the width of the rings from year to year, but perhaps within that variability one could glean an overall decrease in tree ring size if the tree was slowly being smothered by the ivy in some way---this is a real long shot but it would be an interesting analysis nonetheless.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2014

My parents were told by a tree expert (not sure if it was a trained/certified arborist or not) that a tree in their yard was being killed by ivy. They waited 15 years before having the tree cut down; it didn't fall or lose any limbs during that time.

Even if "being killed" is true per an expert, it may imply a different timeframe to a tree-lover as compared to a real estate developer.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even if true, does "being killed" by ivy mean the tree must be removed, or the ivy must be removed?
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2014

Quick question -- why didn't the owners just remove the ivy to save the tree?
posted by amtho at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2014

Thanks for the replies so far. I expect the remains of the trees will be taken away tomorrow, so I wanted to ask my question today before I investigate what has already been done.

The plot of land is not so big that whatever is built can be built around the tree, and I expect the roots would need to be dug up to make the foundations safe.
posted by devnull at 11:37 AM on April 21, 2014

amtho: "why didn't the owners just remove the ivy to save the tree?"

Because they were looking for an excuse to remove the tree to allow building on the land. As long as the tree was healthy it had to remain and that would limit building options.
posted by Mitheral at 5:30 PM on April 21, 2014

I get that; but what is the reason the owners would give?
posted by amtho at 5:01 AM on April 22, 2014

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