Monday, November 15, 2010

Bitter Medicine

Male bittersweet vine at about 5 yrs. old near a walnut tree sapling.

Not long after we bought this place, I purchased two bittersweet plants (a male & a female) from the Henry County Soil & Water Conservation District (HCSWCD).

I planted one near an old fence and one of our zillion walnut saplings.  The other I planted on the front picket fence.  The picket fence location thought was it would be pretty spreading over the fence and laying over on the unmowed portion that is viewed from the road.  Dang those best laid plans - again.

Climbing Bittersweet aka American Bittersweet Celastrus scandens is from the Staff-Tree Family.  Other names you may hear are climbing bittersweet, false bittersweet, climbing orange-root, fever-twig, fever-twitch, staff-vine, and jacob’s-ladder

Fruit and flowers are on the female plant.

Bittersweet has a really beautiful benefit:  In the fall the berries (actually fleshy seeds) are beautiful in decorations.  The fruits are yellow-orange and open to expose the scarlet berry-like interior.   By then, most of the leaves have fallen off and the stems remain  pliable to weave into arrangements and wreaths with ease.   It's a great winter food and cover for wildlife.  It is sometimes used for erosion control.
The flowers are small and green - not really much to call attention to the vine in the spring.  The leaves are 2-4 inches and a nice bright green.  It's a native plant.

A perennial, the twisting vine climbs from 20-50 feet.  Is considered poisonous but not toxic (apparently purging from both ends is a result.)  Native American Indians and in India, it is used as a herbal cure. 

This is the same (male) vine as the first one and the photo was taken this summer.  Note the vines twisting around the trunk.

This year I decided tough love was the only answer for the one on the picket fence.  We trimmed every vine down and out of the crab apple.  It loved the haircut and has rewarded us by becoming much more thick and really covering the crab apple. 

Tough love next spring will probably be cutting to the ground.  Perhaps, we can dig it all up and I can replant where it won't kill something valuable.  It will kill the crab apple because it becomes so dense it can't absorb the needed benefits of the sun and it strangles the trunk.  We'll see, although, I suspect it has resources that may make "tough love" more like army warfare. 

The seeds do not have high germination rate like the very invasive Asiatic  Bittersweet C. orbiculatus.  If you plant bittersweet, make sure you DO NOT get the orbiculatus.

The name is aptly applied, as is so many native plant names.  It is beautifully sweet and bitterly deadly if planted near the wrong place.  

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