English holly and English laurel – uninvited guests
Photo courtesy of Janet Carroll.
Above is the English laurel plant. Have you seen this plant in Mukilteo’s forested gulches or parks? English laurel has several invasive qualities, and so it is a target of Janet Carroll’s invasive-plant mania.
It might surprise you that English holly and English (cherry) laurel are targets of my invasive-plant mania, but these two have spread unwanted from neighborhood yards to my own.
Many people love English holly because the leaves and berries provide great material for Christmas decorating.
Hopefully, by now you’ve gotten rid of the holiday decorations at your house, so you will not mind so much if I make disparaging remarks about this plant.
English holly is not content to stay put. That, of course, is the characteristic of all invasive plants.
Holly spreads by seed-eating birds and suckers growing from the tree.
There are male and female holly trees and, for it to reproduce, they must both be within bee-pollinating distance. The female has berries, but don’t eat them – they are poisonous to people.
English holly is a nursery plant with no regulations or limits to its purchase or sale.
It is not listed as a noxious weed in Washington State or in Snohomish County.
I have seen groves of English holly within our forests creating dark masses of vegetation crowding out native understory plants.
However, during a recent assessment of the Mukilteo urban forest, I did not find an extensive invasion of English holly into the forest. Most of the invasive plants, like English holly, are found on the forest edges in residential areas.
An English holly tree grew in a wooded area on my property; and two more sprouted in shrub beds – there’s never just one.
The plant grows from seedling to tree amazingly fast.
How to remove English holly
It’s pretty easy to pull or dig out the small seedlings, but you can’t just cut down the tree and leave the stump because it will continue to sprout.
Getting the stump out is hard work. A friend pulled out a holly stump with a pick-up truck, but that won’t work in the middle of a forest.
I used a small fork mattock and started digging and prying out the roots. After two hours, I was able to pry out the smaller roots. Where I couldn’t pry the bigger roots out, I used my loppers or a saw to cut them off. I still have the adjacent mother root to go.
Probably the best way to remove the root is to use a stump splitter.
The English laurel is like the English holly in that it spreads by birds and sprouting roots.
I never knew of this plant until I moved to my current home. How could I have missed it?
English laurel is popular in my Mukilteo neighborhood and grows into a dense, small tree or it is planted to form a hedge.
Last summer must have been a good year for laurel berries, because I have been finding seedlings all over.
Because I keep pulling out the seedlings, I have not had to deal with a big plant on my property.
One of the recommendations in the Mukilteo Urban Forest Assessment Report is to educate residents who live near any of our forested gulches or parks about the invasive quality of these plants.
English holly and laurel alternatives
If you want to plant a holly or a plant like the English laurel that works as a hedge, try the Meserve holly hybrids (blue boy, blue girl, blue prince, blue princess, China girl, China boy) found at your nursery.
The hybrids have nice foliage and large red berries, and are especially good for hedges and Christmas decorating. Best of all, they don’t reproduce.
Hybrid hollies are recommended as an alternative to English holly in the booklet “Garden Wise, Non-invasive Plants for your Garden, Western Washington Guide”, which can be downloaded at http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/education/Western_Garden_Wise_Web.pdf.
Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project, which has a goal of certifying Mukilteo as a community wildlife habitat. Help Mukilteo get community certification by certifying your own yard. For more information on the project, go to www.mukilteowildlife.org.Do you have questions about how to get rid of noxious weeds? E-mail Janet at email@example.com.