Fall has officially arrived! The forest is once again adorned in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, and so are many of the local homes and businesses. In fact, many of the decorations used in these homes and businesses are made from plants that were collected from our forests, such as Oriental bittersweet.
Oriental bittersweet was introduced to the United States, from Eastern Asia, in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant. Its woody stems and persistent scarlet berries are an appealing addition to decorative, seasonal wreaths and ornamental floral arrangements. Despite its beauty, Oriental bittersweet can be quite beastly.
It is an aggressively growing vine that girdles and overtops surrounding vegetation. The weight of many vines can cause trees to fall, which can damage power lines, homes, and other trees. It can also prevent forest regeneration after timber harvest and can become a pest in agricultural production. The growth pattern of this plant drastically alters the landscape by out-competing other vegetation, thus limiting available food and habitat for wildlife. If Oriental bittersweet is left untreated it will hurt the economy of our region by impacting the timber industry, agricultural production, and recreational opportunities.
Oriental bittersweet is found in old home sites, fields, forest edges, hedgerows, open woodlands, along road edges and other disturbed sites. Birds are the principal long distance carriers of seeds. However, seeds are also widely spread by people through decorative use of these plants in floral arrangements and landscape plantings.
It is worth noting that there is a native American bittersweet that is similar in appearance to Oriental bittersweet but doesn't grow aggressively and is beneficial for wildlife. Distinguishing our native American bittersweet from the invasive Oriental bittersweet can be difficult. Both species produce small globe-shaped fruits that eventually split to reveal scarlet berries. However, the ripened fruit-casing of American bittersweet is orange, whereas the fruit-casing of Oriental bittersweet is yellow. Also, American bittersweet has clusters of flowers and fruits at the ends of branches, whereas Oriental bittersweet has flowers and fruits where the leaves attach to the stem.
American bittersweet and Oriental bittersweet are known to hybridize in the wild and plants labeled as "American bittersweet" in commercial greenhouses are often mislabeled Oriental bittersweet. If you wish to add vines to your landscaping, rather than risk planting Oriental bittersweet, consider using native alternatives such as Virgin's bower (Clematis virginiana), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).
Visit the Appalachian Ohio Weed Control Partnership blog, at www.appalachianohioweeds.org, for more information on Oriental bittersweet and other invasive species. You can also contact Eric Boyda of the Appalachian Ohio Weed Control Partnership by phone at (740) 534-6578 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Boyda is coordinator of the Appalachian Ohio Weed Control Partnership. Her interests include increasing the awareness of invasive plants and helping individuals or groups plan control strategies. Our Earth appears on alternate weeks in the weekend edition.