Exotic Vine Once Considered Ornamental, Now Invasive

Exotic Vine Once Considered Ornamental, Now Invasive

Recently I noticed what appeared to be an invasive vine in my garden.

The vine Celastrus orbiculatus, or Oriental bittersweet, had climbed up a lovely white birch tree, practically strangling it. [below]

 Oriental bittersweet [ New England Wild Flower Society]

I cut and pulled as much of the vine off the tree as I could. I was not able to reach the top of the tree, but I can now see the leaves, cut from their stem, drying up.

Oriental bittersweet came to the US in 1886 from Japan as an ornamental vine for the home landscape. That year it was first offered in the New York Kissena Nurseries catalog.

According to Peter del Tredici’s 2014 article “Untangling the twisted tale of oriental bittersweet” in Arnoldia magazine it was the Arnold Arboretum in Boston that popularised this vine for American gardens.

Today it is considered invasive here in the Northeast.

In the New Hampshire Landscape Association Newsletter horticulturist Michael Bald calls it a “most-alarming terrestrial plant species” in his article “Three Invasive Plant Species to Really Watch Out For.”

Climbers were coveted in the late nineteenth century Victorian garden.

Rochester, New York seed coompany owner James Vick (1818-1882) praised such vines in his catalog of 1874. He wrote, “The climbers furnish us with nature’s drapery, and nothing produced by art can equal their elegant grace. As the Lilies surpass in beauty all that wealth or power can procure, or man produce, so these tender Climbers surpass all the producing of the decorator’s skill.”

Vick included the native bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, in the section of his 1889 catalog called ‘Climbers.’

By 1893 imported bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus was found in many gardens in the United States, according to del Tredici.

Michael Dirr writes in his useful reference book for gardeners Manual of Woody Landscape Plants that today Celastrus scandens has hybridized with C. orbiculatus and so can also be considered an invasive vine.

It may seem hard to imagine that what was once considered a desirable ornamental plant is anything but that for today’s garden.

Celastrus orbiculatus is only one among many exotics that have now become invasive.

Can you name others?

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