Battling Bittersweet One Town at a Time

An article in the Hartford Courant a week or so ago talked about how one of our riverfront towns, Glastonbury, was going to be attempting to control oriental bittersweet (celastrus orientalus) in its riverfront park.

It was soliciting volunteers (the deadline to sign up is today, so if you live in Connecticut anywhere near that town and would like to volunteer, please see the article for how to do so!) for the clean-up, explaining that what many see as verdant green growth was actually an invasive monster that is taking over trees, killing them, and then going on to spread seeds to continue the cycle.

Back in 2011, when the October snowstorm brought down so many trees, one of the factors that was cited was this same bittersweet. It was noted that it was climbing many of the trees that had come down, and that the weight of the leaves and its trunks (because the vine can actually form thick, ropy trunks, like poison ivy, only without the hairy coating) significantly contributed to the way the trees caught the snow and therefore toppled over.

Connecticut is not the only state with this problem–the vine has been called the “Kudzu of the North” for its prominence and its invasiveness. I’ve seen it in New York and New Jersey, and all throughout New England, as far north as Maine. Needless to say, it is also in the South, but I think kudzu outcompetes it.

Even if you are nowhere near Glastonbury, CT, or have no interest in assisting it in its mission to control bittersweet, if you live in a climate where this vine is a problem, be alert for it on your own property. Young seedlings are easily hand-pulled. Once it gets hold, it’s almost impossible to pull out, and cutting it only causes it to branch and become more vigorous.

My suspicion is that Glastonbury is going to try cutting it and painting the ends of the cut stems with glysophate–or perhaps even something stronger. This is the time of year when woody plants are conserving their energy and taking nourishment to their roots so it is the best time of year to try to control them.

I wish them well–as someone who regularly battles this on my own property, I know what a struggle it can be!

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