Berries So Lovely, Yet So Insidious

by Categorized: Botany, Ecology, Invasive Species Date:

It’s come to this. Oriental bittersweet is now such an invasive plant in the state that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has  issued a release urging residents not to use it in holiday decorating.

Gabelman UConn bittersweet fruits top lr

Use a native plant like Winterberry holly (below) instead, DEEP recommends.

Gabelman winterberry UConn 2013 lr

Sad to say, we have a spectacular mass of the berry-filled branches of Oriental bittersweet high in an immense rhododendron. I admit the berries are gorgeous, and years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I would have been thrilled to use them in a wreath or centerpiece. Now I’m glad they’re out of reach to other holiday decorators who might spot them and be tempted to clip a few.

As soon as there’s enough snowcover on the ground, I’m going to try to pull down the mass of berries using a telescoping pruner. I figure the snow will help me spot where they land. For now, I know the birds are feasting on the berries, which only contributes anew to the continuing spread of the invasive plant.

For years I’ve chopped at the vines of Oriental bittersweet, which have a vexing habit of wrapping around branches and girdling them. The plant just keeps popping up with a vengeance. It’s a never-ending battle.

Logan Senack, the state’s invasive plant coordinator, says Oriental bittersweet is “certainly one of the 10 most common [invasive species in Connecticut], and it certainly has a dramatic and negative impact on ecosystems.”

While it’s not new — it’s been here since the 1860s — and is fairly widespread, there still are parts of the state where Oriental bittersweet isn’t a problem.

And that’s why DEEP wants to keep it from spreading.

It’s actually against the law to sell or move Oriental bittersweet. A state law that went into effect in 2004 prohibits moving, selling, purchasing, transplanting, cultivating or distributing 80 invasive plants — with fines of $50 a plant.

Logan says that while the law has been on the books for a decade, no one could “write a ticket” until 2010 when DEEP was given the enforcement authority. And DEEP does get complaints, but so far, Logan says, they have been resolved with education and voluntary compliance.

As far as eradicating Oriental bittersweet, Logan says you can pull up smaller plants by hand — the bright orange roots are easy to identify. A larger patch or bigger plants might require a professional. You can cut plants that have large woody stems at the base and then apply an herbicide (labeled for woody vegetation) at just the cut portion.

For more information — or if you find someone selling invasive plant species —  contact Logan Senack, at 860-208-3900 and

And the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group’s website at has lots more information on invasive plant species in Connecticut.

PHOTOS: Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), at top, and Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), both by Nicole Gabelman, via DEEP.


The Courant is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *