The Bittersweet Truth

When it comes to holiday decorations, what could be better than an organic woody wreath brimming with red and yellow/orange fruits, right? Well, if you’re using Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), then your decorations could have lasting, not-so-jolly impacts. Keep reading to find out why…

Oriental Bittersweet. Photo by Tom Lautzenheiser

This invasive, non-native vine invades fields, field edges, and forests, forming dense mats that smother or strangle native trees and shrubs. Once it takes root, it’s hard to control. Many of our sanctuaries are in a constant battle with Oriental bittersweet, using mowing, hand-pulling or lopping, or herbicide to protect habitat threatened by bittersweet overgrowth.

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

Do not buy bittersweet! Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

If you’re thinking “how harmful can a little clipping be?” all it takes is one bird to carry off one berry, or a seedling sprouting from your post-holiday compost pile, to set off the problem. Vines can grow up to 12 feet per year, overwhelming herbaceous plants and shrubs within a few years following establishment. Bittersweet can also resprout vigorously if cut but not killed.

Along with other invasive plants, the state banned the importation, propagation, and sale of Oriental bittersweet in Massachusetts in 2005.

So, why not head off future headaches, and choose an alternative? Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant with attractive red berries that can be used as a highlight on any wreath and is generally available as sprigs from your local nursery or florist shop. Or go the faux route and reuse one year after year.

This entry was posted in Nature Notes on by .

About Hillary T.

Where: Mass Audubon Headquarters, Lincoln Who: Massachusetts transplant by way of Florida and New York. Raising two young girls, who she hopes will be budding naturalists Favorite part of the job: Learning something new every day from some of the smartest and most enthusiastic groups of people

5 thoughts on “The Bittersweet Truth

  1. Donna o.

    This year when purchasing winterberry holly, ilex verticallata, local sellers only had a variety that was a hybrid bred for larger berries. Had to travel to find a pure native plant.


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