A Bittersweet Tale of Love and Hate
Beware the bittersweet or it shall seduce you into its embrace and choke out your trees and meadows. The colorful fall berries are used to make fall Wreaths. Birds love the berries and their droppings will soon spread the vine across your property. Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus Orbiculatus, is considered a noxious vine in many states. It is native to Eastern Asia and was planted to North America for ornamental purposes. It has escaped cultivation and is smothering entire forest stands. (Minnesota Extension Service) American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, is claimed to be slower-growing and not as invasive as the oriental species. Knowing the difference between the two is tricky. One is to compate the fruit: Oriental has yellow fruit, American has orange, though they both look similar once the fruit opens.
The leaves on the Oriental are mostly rounded with a less pointy endpoint than the American. Here is a USDA rule of thumb: If the length:width of the leaf is greater than or equal to 2, there is a 90% chance of theplant being American bittersweet, while if the ratio is less than or equal to 1.4, there isa 90% chance of it being oriental bittersweet. Another way to identify the vine is by its bright orange root mass. At ground level it appears brown, but pull it up out of the ground and you can see the orange roots. See the pictures below. The irony of a small vine choking out a huge tree is lost on some. Here's how it starts: Once the seed is in the ground, it takes root and gradually makes its way to a plant or tree, where the chokehold begins. In the pitures above, our lovely Ironwood tree is losing its grip on life as the vine covers the leaves and blooms. Note in the middle picture how the tendrills make their way across tree branches. The process is especially insidious because the vine leaves often resemble the leaves of its host. Can you tell in the picture on the right which is the vine leaf? Bittersweet will climb the tallest tree or creep along the ground until it reaches something it can climb. The roots are bright orange. If the vine is not well established you can pull it out of the ground to be sure it's a bittersweet vine. If the vine is growing up a prized plant, like our lilac bush,The best, and of course, most labor-intensive,solution is to kill the roots with black plastic. Herbicides can damage or destroy the host plant or tree and should be applied carefully. The twisted vines are used in creative artwork, as demonstrated at the NH League of Craftsmen Fair in August.