When a vine is climbing all over something, it’s not always easy to determine whether it’s a “good” vine or a “bad” vine. That “Arborgedden” that we had last October was blamed, at least in part, on the fact that bittersweet had over-run so many of our trees and had made the canopies even heavier than they should have been with just normal leaf cover. (But then again, that storm and the resulting tree damage was blamed on everything from God to homeowners so why shouldn’t invasive plants share some of that blame? It seems the only one not willing to take any responsibility is the power company).
But it’s not just bittersweet running over the tree canopy. True, bittersweet is one of the few plants that will completely smother a tree and kill it, but there are a lot of aggressive vines out there and how do you know what to keep and what’s not desirable?
And if I tell you that poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans) is a native plant, what do you do with that? It certainly changes the discussion of native plants, doesn’t it? Particularly when I show you the size of some of the leaves on my property–and especially if you react to the oil. Some folks have an almost violent reaction to that potent oil that requires drugs or steroids.
So here is what we do: we try to maintain our boundaries free from poison ivy–by pulling plants when they’re small (I don’t react, needless to say, but I still take precautions like wearing gloves and pulling with a bag over my gloved hand!) or by using herbicide judiciously when we have to in August when the plants are taking their energy down to the roots. I’d love to tell you organic herbicides work but they only do if the plants are in the sun. For those in the shade, we have to rely on the conventional ones, sadly. But I have neighbors who claim they are deathly allergic and I don’t want to test the limits of neighborliness but permitting the stuff to grow there.
The other stuff stays. It’s too intertwined with other vines and I cannot conceive of how it could be removed with damage to plantings.
As for Virgina Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia and another native plant) I try to remove that where it’s not wanted as well. The trick is teaching my neighbors to recognize the difference between that and poison ivy–because they think any vine on any tree is poison ivy. So I’ve come up with a little saying “Leaflets 5, keep it alive” so that they don’t spray the heck out of all my trees and vines. It seems to have worked and will keep the vines, them, and their kids safe.
It’s easy to see where the confusion come in: Here’s the virginia creeper on a woodpile:
The 5 leaves are clearly visible to all (I would think).
Now here’s the same woodpile (this wood pile serves as a boundary with our 2 abutting neighbors to the west, both of whom claims allergies)
Here again, I think it’s pretty clear–this is a 3 leafed vine, not a 5 leafed vine.
But take a look at how huge these leaves can really be:
This is basically 2 leaves. They are on a tree, a tree that has, among other things, english ivy and virginia creeper as well, so there really isn’t any control that’s going to work here. But the tree is in a bed of pachysandra and ivy where no one goes so it doesn’t matter. And if someone is walking in there–well, they get what they deserve for trespassing! Head’s up!
Finally, the other two vines that are problematic in my part of the world are Oriental Bittersweet (celastrus orbiculatus) named that to distinguish it from American Bittersweet which is most likely extinct, and wild grape (Vitis species).
Bittersweet is particularly noxious. Its roots go on forever so if you don’t get the seedlings out, forget it! Cutting it only causes it to branch and send up two shoots. Cut those and you’ll get 4 shoots. It really is a losing proposition. I try to get the seedlings where ever possible.
Even this bittersweet, a very cool abino that sadly is on my property, is too far along to pull. I’m watching to see if it survive. Albinos are very rare. Without chlorophyll, it shouldn’t survive–but being as invasive as bittersweet is–well, all bets are off!
It’s there among a tangle of another invasive, by the way–one I didn’t even know I had. I’ve been so busy trying to get rid of garlic mustard I’ve neglected this area. So the birds have planted this lovely but invasive tartarian honeysuckle (lonicera tatarica) for me–not only here but in a few places in this area.
As for wild grape, luckily, I don’t have any of that–yet. But give it time. With my wild bird population, I’ll have some soon, I’m sure. Or I just might already have it in an area of the property I don’t regularly go.
This tangle of stems is from my church parking lot. The homeowners on the abutting street have steep lots that slope down to the lot. Many are wooded and overgrown where they meet our church lot–and this is what results.
Finally as vines go, there are also bittersweet nightshade, which I discussed previously, black swallowwort, which I do not commonly see but which is on Connecticut’s invasive plant list, and mile-a-minute vine, which has been found in several Connecticut communities, primarily in Fairfield county but a couple of random inland counties as well.
Vines can be problems because they do climb on trees and, in the case of invasive vines, will over-run them and actually kill the tree. Learn to recognize which vines you have so you know your “good” vines from your bad and you’ll know whether your trees are in danger from our next storm to come!