The Power of Green: The importance of the ivy at Wrigley
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Like the centerfield scoreboard that is still operated by hand, the ivy at Wrigley Field is beloved by Cubs fans of all generations.
“Ivy is a kind of weed,” said Ramon Gonzalez, an urban garden writer in Chicago, who is better known by his moniker, Mr. Brown Thumb. “It grows on poor soils and with poor lighting, and is king of an all-around pest in a garden. Gardeners who don’t like ivy spend years trying to eradicate it. It’s a very tough plant. By comparison, the ivy at Wrigley is living large. It probably loves the regular watering and fertilizer applied to the grass.”
With record warm temperatures this winter, the ivy that grows on the brick walls of the outfield is in full bloom much earlier than usual. On Opening Day, ivy was visible near the bottom of the basket at the top of the wall and by April 10, Pat Hughes, the Cubs’ play-by-play radio announcer, described the ivy to be covering “85 percent of the wall.”
The ivy growing on the walls of Wrigley is Boston Ivy and has been a fixture of the Chicago Cubs since 1937 when it was used to bring more beauty to the bleacher area of the ballpark, which was built in 1914 and has been home of the Cubs since 1916.
Flowers across the city have been faced with colder temperatures in recent weeks at a point in time when most are just sprouting from the ground. Not to worry, said Richard G. Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager at Chicago Botanic Garden, the green ivy seen so early in the season at Wrigley should be just fine.
“Frost damage to the developing leaves of Boston Ivy would depend on how succulent the leaves are at the time,” said Hawke. “If the leaves are full open, the damage would be minimal or nonexistent. New growth is the most susceptible to frost. In any event, Boston Ivy is a vigorous vine that would bounce back from a spring frost or freeze.
“If the plant had to start over due to frost damage, then it’s possible that the flowering season might be delayed from the usual June-July timeframe. Ultimately, a retarded bloom time wouldn’t be noticed by most people and wouldn’t affect the health of the plant.
Ivy being more prominent at this early of a stage doesn’t just mean more ground rule doubles when the Cubs take the field. To Cubs fans, it adds to the nostalgia of the experience of being at a ballpark that routinely is filled to capacity despite the team not being the most exciting product being produced.
“In an age where stadiums are becoming more modern, they are beginning to lose their warmth,” said Tom Cerven, 24, a diehard Cubs fan. “The ivy, along with the neighborhood, is part of what makes Wrigley feel like the stadium we all grew up playing in. It truly is the Friendly Confines.”
With feelings like Cerven’s, a norm amongst Cubs fans, there is no surprise that the health of the ivy would be of great concern.
“I don’t think Cubs fans should worry too much about the ivy,” said Gonzalez. “The ballparks microclimate will probably protect it from any late spring freezes and drops in temperature. If there is any dieback it should bounce back relatively quickly.”
Gonzalez said there are more pressing concerns for the ivy at Wrigley, and even those are not too dangerous.
“Wrigley’s ivy is probably more at risk from being plucked by bleacher bums and people like the 24-year-old who was arrested last year for breaking into the park to steal some of the ivy than it is from cold temperatures.”