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.













Stagestuck — Appleseed Amphitheater in Limbo

A venue that was, in effect, stillborn. Pretty much mothballed after a dismal opening season.

MIFFLIN, OHIO — The gate was open when I drove by the mothballed Johnny Appleseed amphitheater this afternoon. So I pulled in to have a look around.

About a hundred yards past the gate, a crane loaded logs onto a tractor-trailer. The logging equipment reminded me of vultures, picking a carcass. The forest surrounding the amphitheater belongs to Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. They’re still looking for a way to repurpose the facility.

A boarded up ticket booth and a sad looking concrete statue of Johnny Appleseed spoke volumes. The play — a musical that some deemed “too Disneyesque” — was a resounding flop. The center was built at a time attendance was flagging at other outdoor dramas in the state.

Still, you had to admire their determination, the folks who dared to dream big and roll the dice.

They lost. The Appleseed Center and two shuttered bars nearby sit like scabs upon the landscape in a corridor once considered promising.

The sign says it all.

Vines begin to consume galvanized steel apple plaques at the back of the grandstand. A light tower stands sentry — for no reason other than a prolonged death watch.

A sad looking Johnny Appleseed — his hat damaged by the elements, teeters on its base.

Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part 3

You are NOT alone

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One of two bald eagles that watched me break camp.

There was no one else around at my Muskrat Bay campsite, but I was not alone. Lucy kept me company all evening and, when I crawled out of my tent in the morning, she was still there.

Lucy was a Canada goose. She appeared to have been injured and unable to fly. She swam around in front of my campsite, constantly positioning herself so she could keep an eye on me. It was sad to see goose couples come and go. Lucy watched them helplessly, perhaps longing for a life she’ll never have.

She wasn’t the only company I had. As I prepared breakfast and ate it, an osprey looked on from a tree across the bay. It flew off as I broke camp and, moments later, a bald eagle landed near where the osprey had been and stayed there until I slid my loaded canoe into the lake and paddled off. It was joined by a second eagle.

I began a day of exploring the lake north of the SR 430 bridge. Along the way, I saw a mallard, an egret and a plastic goose. I also rousted thousands of cormorants, which have become something of a plague on Charles Mill Lake.

There are suitable Islands for camping and a site — complete with a picnic table — on a peninsula at the southeast entrance to Big Turtle Bay. The downside is they’re situated between US 30 and SR 430 and the sound of traffic never stops.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon paddling along the shoreline on the northern end of the lake. Because of the highways, Eagle Point campground, a boat ramp and houses, it’s less appealing than the southern part of Charles Mill Lake.

In short, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there.

In Camp Harbor on the west side of the lake, I came upon what I hope wasn’t a familiar sight — a scuttled dredge. Years ago, while working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette, I wrote an article about the naming of a new dredge. It was dubbed “Sedimental Journey.” Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District had purchased the dredge. The plan was to dredge the channel under the SR 430 bridge, which separates the northern and southern parts of the lake, then take it to other MWCD lakes.

I can’t imagine it would have been scuttled without being used more.The average depth of Charles Mill Lake is only five feet. That’s down three feet from the original depth. The bottom of the lake is covered with a gooey layer of silt, the byproduct of irresponsible farming, logging and construction practices. I’d like to think that this was another dredge, one replaced by Sedimental Journey.

Ironically, as I explored the lake for three days in April, 50,000 gallons of drilling clay had been dumped in a wetland upstream — a byproduct of the Rover pipeline project. It might not reach the lake, but the harm to wildlife and the wetland is disheartening just the same.

Here are a few photos from the final day of my three-day canoe trip:


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Lucy, my constant companion.


A mallard duck doing some morning yoga, north of the SR 430 bridge.

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An egret looks for fish in the shallows along the eastern shoreline.

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A plastic goose lurks in a tree trunk near Sites Lake, a residential area on the north end of Charles Mill.


A scuttled dredge in Camp Harbor. Note the disintegrated oil boom around it.

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The cab of the dredge. I was concerned that the interior of the hull reeked of oil.

Click on the link below for a map of the lake:

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated


Previous posts on this trip:

Part One

Part Two











Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part two


While paddling around Bushman Bay, waiting for my friends to arrive at the lake, this tree called out to me.

Sitting around the campfire after a day of exploring the western part of Charles Mill Lake, I thought about the traffic on nearby SR 603. Like a lot of rural state routes, traffic dies down at night. It was far enough away and masked by trees and the sound of water going through the dam that I could barely hear the occasional truck going by.

I thought about how many times — thousands — I had gone up and down that road to and from work. About 13, 14 years. Tires over the bridge now; I’m retired.

On the second day of my trip, my friends Kevin and Theresa joined me for a day paddle.

We spent several hours exploring the east side of the lake, from Charles Mill Dam north to the main campground. Part of the mission was to explore islands, looking for other potential campsites.

I’d always thought Harbor Island at the southern end of the lake looked promising. Like Mud Lake — mentioned in the previous post — it was not. It, too, is choked with multiflora rose and too close to civilization. There are several houses nearby.

From previous experience, I knew Applegate Island was suitable for camping. Kevin Theresa and I found Barb Island to be good also. It’s small, but isolated enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to camp there. Except during duck hunting season. Duck hunters have staked claims on most the islands and other spots along the shoreline, posting their names and phone numbers. It’s a good lake to stay off of during waterfowl season.

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Theresa and Kevin check out turkey vultures that were checking us out in Muskrat Bay.

We were particularly impressed with Muskrat Bay. Isolated and shallow, it was teeming with wildlife including great blue heron and belted kingfishers. As we headed out of the bay, I told Theresa that the islands there had camping potential. Those words proved to be prophetic.

After we parted company, I headed north. I planned to paddle upriver on Black Fork of the Mohican River and, perhaps, camp on one of the islands.

However, it had rained a lot the previous week, leaving the islands muddy. I found a few suitable spots, but they were too close to SR 603, which follows the river pretty much from US 42 to SR 30.

So, I grabbed a six-pack of Molson XXX from Molly’s Cheese House and headed back downstream to the lake. (Another story for another day.) I paddled back to Muskrat Bay and found another perfect campsite on one of the islands.

Here are a few more photos from day two of the trip.

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Great blue heron in Muskrat Bay. Notice how shallow the water is.

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Waning full moon over Muskrat Bay

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Turn on yer Bud Lite — I “repurposed” a discarded beer bottle found on the island and made this swell candle holder.


Click on the link below for a pdf map of the lake.

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated

Next – Breakfast with friends in Muskrat Bay and dredging up memories.