oriental bittersweet

Oriental bittersweet is among a number of invasive vines wreaking havoc on mountain ecosystems.

2022 is the year of the vine.

Due to the lack of a late freeze mixed with a warm and wet spring, especially vigorous plants have been given the opportunity to truly “Hulk out” this season.

In my experience vines have taken the forefront in this year’s growing race. If you haven’t noticed it already, I encourage you to take a look around your property for explosive vine growth of your own.

There are a lot of vines native to the area, and luckily most native vines are mildly thuggish at worst, meaning that they grow fairly well among other plants and don’t tend to completely take over a space. Our native vines also tend to be more easily tolerated by large trees, and rarely cause the death of trees by themselves.

Because of this, native vines including grapes, Virginia creeper, clematis, pipevine, and even poison ivy should be left to their own devices whenever possible.

There are a whole host of invasive vines in the region, however, and these intruders tend to be of a far more dangerous sort. Powerful exotic vines like bittersweet, winter honeysuckle, English ivy, kudzu, Chinese wisteria, and porcelain berry can not only overwhelm wildflowers and shrubs but are also a potent threat to old growth trees as well.

Let’s go over these plants one by one, so that you can learn their growth habits and better remove them from vulnerable natural spaces.

Of all the locally invasive vines, I tend to see bittersweet more than the rest. This tenacious vine can sometimes be picked out from others in the spring, when new leaves take on an especially vibrant lime color as they mature.

Late in the season, these vines also stand out due to their collections of red/orange berries, which are spread far and wide by birds and other browsers.

While I normally don’t recommend identifying a plant based on its roots, bittersweet also has stand-out underground growths that are tinged orange with a similar hue to Cheetos. The leaves of bittersweet also tend to have a pronounced drip tip on the end, which helps them channel water off of their foliage.

Bittersweet should be bodily pulled from any space in which it resides. Pay special attention to any bittersweet pulled at the end of the season, as their berries are very easily spread even by transporting pulled pieces.

If it has berries, try not to move it from the site, and dispose of it either through burying underneath a foot of soil or burning your pulled piles.

Winter honeysuckle is another invasive vine that is most easily identified in the spring, as its evergreen habit makes it one of the only vines with leaves at the end of winter. Just like with bittersweet, pay special attention to the vine if it already has berries on it. This goes for most invasive vines and other plants – if it has seeds or berries, move it as little as possible and dispose of it onsite.

English ivy and Chinese wisteria can normally be found around homesteads and other urbanized areas, where they have overrun their original spaces and taken control of the surrounding areas. Both of these are heavy clingers, able to bend and warp even large deck structures if given enough time.

Both should be removed whenever possible. Native pachysandra and American wisteria can fill their spots nicely. Porcelain berry often resembles native grape vines until the fruit matures, which is normally a mix of whites, blues and darker purples. If you see a vine with fruit of mixed colors, that’s a red flag – remember not to move any berries between areas.

For most vines, it’s possible to follow the plant back to its main roots, which once removed puts a real damper on future growth. This even goes for kudzu, although their massive size requires additional time and labor to truly beat back.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. He can be reached at brannen.basham@gmail.com.