Friday, October 23, 2009


There was a bittersweet moment on my trip to New England. I forgot my garden clippers and was not able to cut bittersweet the vine that grows as abundantly as blackberries grow in the Pacific Northwest.  It really was in my plan to cut some bittersweet and pack it up in a box and mail it home. 

There are two types of vine commonly known as Bittersweet.  Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is the invasive variety that can be distinquished by the blunt thorns that grow on the vines.  The berries grow along the vine. American Bittersweet or false bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) does not have thorns and the berries grow at the end of the vines. Bittersweet produces a vibrant yellow shell over a deep orange berry.  As the vines mature and dry in the Fall, the shell cracks open to reveil the orange surprise inside whose colors match the yellows, oranges and reds of New England foliage at it's peak.

Oriental Bittersweet vines can choke and kill trees so many gardeners labor to kill the vines and rid their garden of this pesky invader.The powerfully invasive oriental bittersweet vines engulf other vegetation, slowly killing it. The germination of a bittersweet seed in the ground at the base of a tree seems harmless enough. Yet, it won't take long for the oriental bittersweet vine to make it to the tree's crown, a la Jack's beanstalk made famous in folklore. It can be difficult to imagine a vine killing a tree, but oriental bittersweet vines have slain many a giant. Capable of reaching four inches in diameter, oriental bittersweet vines wrap so tightly around their victims that the trees are strangled, in a process called girdling by arborists. Even when oriental bittersweet vines aren't strangling a plant, they envelop it in so much shadow that they rob the plant of the sunlight required for proper photosynthesis. Conservation New England reports that, in the case of smaller trees, uprooting can even occur, as the trees' root systems are unable to contend with the massive weight of entrenched vines. See Landscaping and Bittersweet for more information on Bittersweet.

I would have loved to make a wreath for my door with the real thing and not a plastic reproduction from Michael's craft store like the one I have hanging outdoors.  Everywhere I looked I saw bittersweet vines crawling up trees, over fences and along walls.  There it was free for the picking and I didn't do it! 

I was really had my buttons pushed when I saw some really beautiful wreaths on sale at a high end florist for a mere $120 and even more upset when I saw several on homes around town.  To think someone would pay that much for an invasive vine that is free for the picking.  I suppose it is worth it to have someone remove the leaves and fashion a ring with the thorn free vines.  That's it I am going to get some American Bittersweet starts and plant in along the fence in my backyard next summer and see if I can propagate it.  Maybe I will be able to go into the bittersweet wreath business next fall. To grow bittersweet vines or not to grow bittersweet vines: truly a bittersweet decision.


Bellen said...

I never knew Bittersweet could be so destructive till I saw it growing and killing a stand of trees behind a little strip mall in CT. Beautiful but deadly.

BTW - made & sold grapevine wreaths in CT. In late summer I would cut as long lengths as possible, 8 feet minimum, and then wrap/intertwine them around 5 gallon buckets till really full. Usually got 2 wreaths per bucket. Let them dry that way for about 2 weeks or until the leaves fell off. Removed, let dry a couple of more weeks then sold them. People liked them because they were native, handmade, undyed, not tied together and really full. Could be done with bittersweet, willow or any other pliable vine/sapling.

Frugal Fraulein said...

Thanks I have never used a bucket and that is a great idea! Mother Nature doing her thing killing with beauty I guess. I want to remind everyone that Bittersweet berries are not edible.

Anonymous said...

I was just running a search for how to KILL bittersweet vines and came upon this blog. Seems like you're doing a lot of great work, but I think you'll find you made a "bittersweet decision" to cultivate this vine when it becomes uncontrollable, gets in your neighbor's properties and the ecosystems. I am sure they will be grateful for the mess! - From a New Englander fed up with bittersweet.

Stephanie P. said...

how did you make out with cultivating your bittersweet? did you use the American or Oriental variety? I'm considering it for a picket fence, as it looks like it would kill a tree. Thanks!

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