Invasive plants: Oriental bittersweet

by Caroline Brown

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb.), also known as Asiatic bittersweet, is an aggressive invasive vine that’s found in the eastern part of the U.S. It currently occurs from Maine to North Carolina and as far west as Illinois.

I’ve written before about other invasives but this one is a real monster. Oriental bittersweet spreads very quickly and the biggest danger is that it can quite rapidly choke out competing vegetation.

At left, you can see what it looks like when it chokes a tree. Some people say that it’s as dangerous to the northeast as kudzu is to the southeast. According to the National Park Service:

It grows over other vegetation, completely covering it, and kills other plants by preventing photosynthesis, girdling, and uprooting by force of its massive weight.

It was introduced in the 1860s as an ornamental–many people still use it for making wreaths. It owes its success as an invasive plant to its ability to rapidly produce seed. It’s also spread by birds that feast on its prolific red berries.

If you have Oriental bittersweet on your property, the best way to kill it it so pull it out by its roots, before it fruits. (That means now.) We have it in our yard…we cleverly trailed it up the bannister of our back steps because we thought it was pretty. But it’s getting awfully close to the Rose of Sharon next to it. But it’s warm enough now to spend some time taking it down. I’ll take pictures of the uprooting and post them.

For more information, see the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual.

photo 1 courtesy of Milford Daily News

photo 2 courtesy of University of Maine Cooperative Extension

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4 Responses to “Invasive plants: Oriental bittersweet”

  1. thank you so much! i think that this is the “monster” that has taken over my yard. I tried pulling it out by the roots but it seemed to multiply! Its killing my trees! What do I do now? I love trees and I don’t want them to die.

  2. Hi Trisha, I’m so sorry this thing is taking over your trees. I don’t have much experience with a big invasion like what you’re talking about…I hate to say it but I think it will require some sort of chemical interference. First thing I would do is call the Cooperative Extension service in your state and ask them to recommend the least-harmful herbicide that will get rid of it. I can’t recommend one–all I did was pull the vine off of a banister, and it wasn’t very difficult.

    Next thing is, can you pull it out of the trees without harming them? If so, you could try that and then cut the vine at its roots (above the ground). I’ve heard that if you then apply herbicide to the cut stem, it will kill it to the roots. You might want to try cutting it at its roots first, apply the herbicide to the roots which will kill them. Then, presumably all the mess up in the tree will die–maybe it will be easier to pull out of the tree when it’s dead, or in the fall when the tree leaves have died.

    Hope this makes sense. Good luck & keep me posted!

  3. Its at the top of 40ft pines so that won’t work. What kind of herbicide can I use, can you suggest a certain brand or name of a chemical that would work?I’m trying to save all of my trees,without killing off my whole yard in the process. Thanks, Trisha

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