‘Tis Bittersweet – Carol J. Michel

As I was mowing, I saw a bittersweet vine growing, hiding, trying to camoflauge itself under a shrub.

With one quick pull, I yanked it out, and tossed it on the driveway for its mug shot.

It’s a criminal of a plant, trying to hide until it can take over and begin its quest toward world, or at least tree, domination. I do believe if I hadn’t found this one and it had been left to grow, it would have reached a nearby oak tree and started its steady, stealthy climb up into the tree branches.

(Not this time, bittersweet vine, not this time!)

I know this because I know where the mother plant is. It’s not far as the crow flies, and clearly the crow and many other birds, fly to that bittersweet, eat its fruit, then sow the seeds all through the neighborhood via their droppings.

This, my dear friends, is Celatrus orbiculatus, common name Oriental Bittersweet, growing up a large honeylocust tree. It comes from Asia and is also called Chinese Bittersweet or Asian Bittersweet.

It’s closely related to American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens.

But it is much more invasive.

What people like about this vine, and why it was imported to the United States in the first place, is the pretty red fruit on female plants. This is a dioecious plant with male and female flowers on separate plants. I know this particular vine is a female, hence the seedlings I find in my garden.

I also know that this will not be the last time I pull seedlings of this vine out of my garden. It readily returns from any root left in the ground. Though looking at the picture at the beginning of this post, I did get quite a bit of the roots this time, thanks to some rain we got a few days ago.

(Hope springs eternal in a garden, doesn’t it? “Hope” should be as invasive in a garden as bittersweet vine!)

I know of four places where I’ve pulled bittersweet vine out of my garden, more than once. I check those four spots periodically for any regrowth and yank it out immediately when I see it.

(Yes, I sometimes see weeds and let them grow a bit before finally getting around to pulling them. We all do! But not when I see bittersweet vine. I stop whatever I’m doing and pull it right then and there. Which reminds me of my new favorite quote – “A good garden may have some weeds.” ~ Thomas Fuller, English Clergyman. Get out the embroidery thread and stitched that on a pillow. Pull out the paints and paint that on a sign. Memorize it. Say it to anyone who points out a weed in your garden. Dee and I talked about that quote in this week’s podcast episode and I even used it for the title for that episode. Now, where were we?)

Oh, right ’tis bittersweet. And a good garden should not have invasive bittersweet in it.

How else might I control this invasive vine?

I know it would laugh at landscape fabric, coming up right through it. And I’d never use landscape fabric in my garden except on the occasional path. My soil needs to breath and I plant lots of bulbs in the fall.

(In fact, I just ordered some fall-blooming crocus corms from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs to plant in front near where the spring crocuses bloom. Those flowers in the fall will confuse the neighbors who are used to seeing masses of crocuses blooming in my front garden in the spring. They’ll see them in the fall now and check their calendars and scratch their heads and think, “It sure seems like fall, did we miss winter?” They’ll think I have magical plant growing skills to be able to get crocuses to bloom TWICE a year. Don’t tell them how I did it. Now where were we?)

Oh, right, ’tis bittersweet and landscape fabric won’t stop it.

I could treat the bittersweet with an herbicide. However, the leaves are waxy so any herbicide I might be able to buy and use would probably just slow it down until the roots below pushed up new growth. It would be an exercise in futility and a waste of money.

I could ask the owners of that tree to cut the vine down. But really, to get rid of that monstrous vine, they’d have to cut down the entire tree with the vine and then grind out all the stumps, then hope they got it all. Not an insignificant amount of work. But that’s not going to get rid of any seedlings that are going to try to take over my garden. And honestly, for as many seeds as that vine is producing, I don’t really see that many bittersweet seedlings in my garden.

Which leaves pulling it out as I find it, which I am doing.

‘Tis bittersweet.

“A good garden may have some weeds.”


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