Yes, I know it’s bittersweet. But, is it the native American (Celastrus scandens) that is increasingly rare, or the invasive Oriental (Celastrus orbiculatus)? Before any research is done, it seems most likely that the vine will be the more prevalent Oriental bittersweet, but further investigation is required. Both are lovely vines with prominent winter fruit. Both will overwhelm trees and form tangled colonies, but the invasive Oriental bittersweet spreads more readily to become a problem.
I’ve seen the vine in prior years, but then it was sparse, winding through the dense thicket that borders my garden. It was only evident in late autumn, once leaves had dropped from the brush and brambles and the bright berries were obvious. The vine wasn’t growing vigorously, so I paid little attention and didn’t care if it was the invasive type since it clearly posed no imminent danger.
Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed the bittersweet again, but at the other end of the thicket closest to my garden. This time the vine has engulfed a weedy clump of mulberries that leans so close to the garden’s yellow flowered ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia that I took immediate notice. Whether the invasive or native, I don’t want the vine climbing into the magnolia, and with little space between the top of the mulberries and magnolia this seems inevitable.
A quick bit of research reveals the worst, the vine is the Oriental and not the native American bittersweet. The surest indicator is that the berries of the American are clustered at the vine’s tips in groups of six to eight, while on the Oriental the berries are grouped along the length of the vine by two’s and three’s. The Oriental bittersweet also has blunt thorns along the stems. So, I look at the photos of the Oriental, take a quick trip out to the vine, and back again, and it’s confirmed. It’s Oriental bittersweet, and something must be done to keep it out of the magnolia, and to keep it from spreading further in the thicket and into the neighboring forest.
The issue is further complicated by the mulberries’ proximity to the magnolia, and that the vine cannot easily be extricated from the mulberries. There is only one solution I see. The mulberries must be cut down, and the vine will fall along with the weedy trees. The bittersweet vine is thick, and it is not likely that I’ll be able to pull it out by the roots, but for now I’ll cut it to the ground and try to chop it out. If it returns in the spring, which is probable, I’ll chop some more, or spray with an herbicide to be rid of it.
The shame is that the Oriental bittersweet is beautiful, at least as attractive as the native. I could argue that what grows on the neighboring property is none of my business, but in fact it is a disconnected piece of land from a farm that has partially been developed into a small subdivision. There is no neighbor to be consulted, and I claim parts of the land on my side of the creek for my garden since there’s no one close by to object. The magnolia is threatened, so here is a project that must be undertaken immediately. If I wait until spring, or delay for a year or two (as I often do), the magnolia will suffer and the vine will be even more difficult to remove.