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Monday, November 9, 2015

A bittersweet find is the Bittersweet Vine for Autumn Decor

 Gathering natural plant material for fall craft decorating ideas can be a fun and rewarding time spent outdoors. The materials are the real thing rather than craft store imitations, and cost us nothing except the time and energy to collect them. Acorns, pine cones, grapevines, milkweed pods, teasel cones and dried grasses are just some of the treasures you may discover. There is another that is a bittersweet find... the Bittersweet Vine.

Bittersweet is an ornamental climbing vine that is running rampant across the United States, strangling anything in its path that it can wrap itself around.

Celastrus orbiculatus

There are two types which look very much like. The one that is native to North America is called "American bittersweet" or "false bittersweet", Celastrus scandens. This plant has smooth stems and is well-behaved.

Celastrus scandens

The other is called "Oriental or Asian bittersweet", Celastrus orbiculatus, an exotic invasive brought over to the United States in the 1860's as an ornamental. It was purposely planted for years as a form of erosion control and for wildlife food and habitat. Discovered a little too late was that this vine literally takes over anything in its path. It looks different from the American bittersweet in that it has stems with blunt thorns and its flowers and fruits appear in small clusters along the branches were leaves are attached, whereas the American bittersweet has larger flower clusters but they are only at the branch tips.

The reasons why the Oriental bittersweet is so successful at displacing the endangered American bittersweet is because:
The bright orange/red berries are more appealing to birds who then spread the seeds around wherever the birds eliminate.
The seeds of the Oriental bittersweet have a higher germination rate than the American.
The Oriental bittersweet is better at photosynthesizing therefore grows very rapidly.

From the picture above, it is understandable why people would want to gather this plant in the fall. It's berries burst open in late September and are very pretty with the red/orange centers surrounded with the yellow skins. People like the vines for crafts for the seasonal color but also because the vines are easy to conform to almost any shape, allowing them to be a part of whatever craft project, wreath or floral arrangement in mind. 

Keep in mind two things if you are going to use them for fall decorating. Once brought indoors into warm temperatures, the flowers and fruits will eventually fall off and create a potential mess on the floor if stepped on. If used for outdoor decorating, remember that wherever the berries end up on the ground you may discover a vine growing come spring. Seeds germinate best in low light environments.It spreads by both the seeds and the sprouting roots.

The problem with Oriental bittersweet is that it doesn't distinguish among plants to climb over. It'll smother herbaceous plants on the ground as well as climb the tallest trees. 

It's sprawling growth monopolizes light and water and literally forms a canopy over shrubs and small trees, eventually becoming top-heavy and causing the tangled mess to collapse on itself. Its vines can reach four inches in diameter and as it wraps around other plants, it literally strangles them to death. 

 Yes, there are small trees under there

For light infestations the vines can be pulled or dug out by the roots and removed. Fruiting vines should be bagged and removed. To leave them lay is just going to result in the seeds resprouting. 
To deal with large, established plants, there are two ways to do it.  Cut the vines close to the ground and apply a foliar spray later when they resprout.  Or, cut the vines close to the ground and chemically treat the stumps. Cutting the vines without removing the roots or chemically treating the stems will stimulate regrowth. 
 The best time to treat is in early spring or fall when the native plants are dormant and there is much less chance they'll be affected. 
Check with your County Extension Office for advice on what herbicides are the safest to use.