Oriental Bittersweet – Strangling Our Landscape

I’m posting this with the hope that park managers and other government officials will start taking this invasive plant seriously and do something about it NOW. (Originally written for the Greater Mohican Audubon Newsletter.)

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Oriental bittersweet berries. Pretty — devastating.

There’s nothing sweet about Oriental bittersweet. Unless it’s watching the leaves wither up after cutting the vines or treating it with herbicide.

But don’t be lulled by temporary successes in controlling Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). This aggressive invasive is tenacious. And it seems to have more friends than enemies.

In a 2018 article on Buckeye Yard & Garden onLine, Amy Stone refers to Oriental bittersweet as the “kudzu of the north.”

“Oriental bittersweet is invasive vine that is native to China, Japan and Korea,” Stone wrote in her article. “It was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant around 1860. This deciduous, woody, twining vine can climb on trees, shrubs and anything else in its way.”

It was also introduced for erosion control, similar that notorious invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica).

Yes, like so many other invasive plants, careless or clueless entrepreneurs introduced Oriental bittersweet to the U.S. To make matters worse, Oriental bittersweet is still sold here and prized for its colorful berries, which are used as decorations.

It’s easy to see where that could go awry. It’s bad enough that birds are spreading the seeds far and wide. Add to that well-meaning consumers spreading a little holiday joy — along with a nasty invasive vegetation.

Oriental bittersweet should not be confused with native American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). But it can be. There are subtle differences between them. However, Stone advises that, “To add to the possible confusion, the two different species in the same genus (Celastrus) are crossing and producing plants that sometimes have characteristics of both the native and non-native species.”

What does it look like?

The University of Maryland Extension provides this description:

Growth habit: climbing, deciduous vine; leaves rounded to obovate, alternate, simple with bluntly toothed margins.

Reproduction: seed; flowers are inconspicuous followed by green to yellow fruits that burst open to display orange-red seeds persisting into fall after leaf drop.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it prefers upland meadows, thickets, young forests, and beaches.

What’s the harm?

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Bittersweet vines strangling trees at Charles Mill Lake Park – Mifflin, Ohio.

Oriental bittersweet quickly takes over the landscape. Its deciduous woody vines create thickets, encircling tree trunks like boa constrictors, climbing upwards and choking the life out of them. The weight of the vines can pull down large trees. For that reason, those working to control this horrible invasive are warned never to tug at vines to remove them from trees or branches. It also shades out understory plants.

How could things possibly get worse? Oriental bittersweet also spreads underground; it reproduces by putting out root suckers.

To see the devastation up close, visit Charles Mill Lake Park on the Ashland and Richland county border. Oriental bittersweet is everywhere, even on the islands. In some places, the infestation is so bad that bittersweet vines are actually choking themselves.

What can be done?

In Ohio, public officials in general have yet to demonstrate any sense of urgency when it comes to controlling Oriental bittersweet and other invasive plants. On your own property, you can control it by constant cutting or mowing, pulling small vines or cutting large ones and treating the stumps with strong herbicide such as Triclopyr. (Glyphosate just won’t cut it.)

Treatment can be done any time of year, but stump treating is best done in late summer.

For a good video on Oriental bittersweet control log on to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wmZ1Zuho1c.

This video also serves as a great resource for identifying Oriental bittersweet.

Here’s a less-widely accepted method to control Oriental bittersweet. Save lengths of vines as you cut them. Keep them handy in case you find someone selling Oriental bittersweet — and strangle them.













I Canoe Because ‘Amish’ the Good Ol’ Days


Ken Arthur updates his journal by candlelight – while our Mennonite neighbors luxuriate in their modern RV.

On this leg of our canoe trip, I mistook a Mennonite family for Amish and Ken, in turn, was mistaken for Amish.

Instead of camping at Six Mile Dam on the Walhonding River the first night of our trip, we pressed on to Coshocton. On the gravel bar in front of the Lake Park Campground, several Mennonite children frolicked in the river. A middle-aged woman played with the children while an older woman sat in a folding chair reading a newspaper.

It was quite a bucolic scene — the women and girls in their long dresses and white bonnets and the boys in their plain dark clothing. I thought to photograph them but decided to respect their privacy.

As our canoe ground to a halt on the gravel landing we became aware that some of them were staring at us — much as we “English” sometimes hazard uncomfortably long glances at the Amish or Mennonites. The sight of two old guys in a canoe laden with camping gear might have been something of a novelty to them.

“Are you on a camping trip?” the middle-aged woman asked.

We told her we were.

At first I had thought they were Amish. Then I realized, when I noticed their multicolored clothing, that they were Mennonites. Unlike the Amish, they don’t shun technology. This would become abundantly clear.

As Ken and I pitched our tents, the middle-aged woman walked by.

“Have you heard whether it’s supposed to rain tonight?” Ken asked her.

She pulled out a smartphone, checked her weather app and said, “There’s a slight chance of rain around midnight.”

Then she sauntered on down the lane to her campsite — and climbed into a big fancy RV.

This experience reminded me that primitive camping is just another form of shunning the trappings of modernity.

After supper, Ken recorded the day’s events in his journal by candlelight while I wandered down to the gravel bar try to catch a glimpse of the full moon.

After a leisurely breakfast we broke camp, loaded the canoe, and headed downstream. We stopped to stretch our legs at the public river access south of Coshocton.

Ken wandered along the bank, looking for objects to incorporate into his artwork. Meanwhile, I picked up litter left behind by careless fishermen.

An older model car rolled into the parking lot and stopped near the riverbank. It was occupied by two men, who I guessed to be around 50. They had fishing rods in the back seat.

I approached the car and noticed the man in the passenger seat had an open bottle of Budweiser on the seat between his legs. The driver asked if the river was shallow and I told him it was. They indicated that shallow water wasn’t conducive to good fishing. Although they seemed more interested in drinking.

The driver noticed Ken walking along the bank.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“Oh, he’s with me,” I responded.

“Is he Amish?” he asked.

I laughed and told him he wasn’t.

They left, apparently to do their drinking elsewhere.

As Ken approached, he asked about the men in the car.

“They asked me if you were Amish,” I said.

He was not amused.

Personally, I don’t mind being mistaken for Amish. I have been on at least one occasion. After all, isn’t that what canoe tripping is all about — shunning the trappings of modernity?

In their book “Canoeing and Kayaking Ohio’s Streams,” Rick Combs and Steve Gillen aptly observed, “Paddling … can take you back to a time when travel was more deliberately accomplished.”

(This was written for my outdoors column, which runs in GateHouse Media publications.)