Uncovering the Stranglehold in Winter

Oriental Bittersweet Vine

Winter’s grey reveals many of nature’s hidden invaders not easily seen during the heightened lush of spring and summer. While quite amazing in appearance, this twisted, woody structure is an invasive, deciduous vine called Oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus.

The Oriental bittersweet vine can grow to diameter of 6 inches and 66 feet in length. The alternate leaves are round to oval in shape with margins that possess rounded teeth. In the spring, flowers consist of five sepals and petals that are arranged in clusters of 2-7 at the leaf axils. The flowers give rise to fruit which changes from green to red orange with a yellow capsule upon maturity.

Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) fruit

Image by AussieBotanist via Flickr

Oriental bittersweet or Asian bittersweet is found in forested areas, field and forest margins, meadows, riparian areas and in residential landscapes throughout the temperate eastern US and Canada. More exact statewide and county specific Oriental bittersweet distribution can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service Page. In addition to its geographic distribution, the vine thrives in full sun to shade and in a wide range of soil types making it a particularly hardy invasive plant.

These vigorously growing vines climb trees, shrubs, or other support structures by winding around them, and in the process, girdle and smother them. Oriental Bittersweet produces dense shade that has a tendency to overwhelm and displace other native plant communities in an ecosystem. In the winter, another negative impact of this extremely invasive plant occurs when the added weight of the snow and ice covered vines breaks and damages trees as well as shrubs.

To eliminate infestations, prolific reproduction via seed and rhizome production must be stopped. Birds and mammals consume the fruits. These ingested seeds germinate at a higher rate than seeds that fall directly on the ground. One way to circumvent the Oriental bittersweet’s reproductive cycle is to prevent seed formation. Infestation of the Oriental bittersweet may be controlled by

  • hand pulling seedlings;
  • cut foliar or stump herbicide applications using Round Up or
  • weekly mowing.

Whatever method one chooses to manage this ecological threat, it is clear that this sinister invasive must be stopped before it crushes the life out the flora around it! So take the time to stroll through your garden this winter to see what invasives the shades of grey reveal.

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