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We have this growing on a... #157002 - Ask Extension

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We have this growing on a... #157002

Asked October 14, 2013, 2:07 PM EDT

We have this growing on a vine next to our wild grapes, and no one seems to know what is. Can you tell me what they are? If they are poisonous, do I need to worry about them growing next to my grapes?

Dunn County Wisconsin

Expert Response

This looks like a bittersweet.  Bittersweet plants can kill trees and are difficult to eradicate from your landscape. But during the fall season the vines put on a display few other plants can rival, as the deep yellow skin of their berries bursts to reveal an orange jewel within. And not to be outdone by the berry, the plant's fall foliage blankets its victims in yellow splendor. There are two dioecious vines with yellow and orange berries commonly called "bittersweet." They look very much alike. One, an innocuous vine indigenous to North America with smooth stems, is Celastrus scandens, also called "American bittersweet" plant or "false bittersweet." The other, an exotic vine that is among North America's most invasive plants and whose stem bears blunt thorns, is Celastrus orbiculatus, or "oriental bittersweet" vine. Another way to distinguish between American and oriental types is by discerning the location of their berries: the berries of American bittersweet plants appear at the tips of the vines only, while those of the oriental type grow along the vine.  The oriental type engulfs other vegetation, slowly killing it. The germination of a bittersweet seed in the ground at the base of a tree seems harmless enough. Yet, it won't take long for the oriental bittersweet vine to make it to the tree's crown. It can be difficult to imagine a vine killing a tree, but oriental bittersweet vines have slain many a giant. Capable of reaching four inches in diameter, oriental bittersweet vines wrap so tightly around their victims that the trees are strangled, in a process called girdling.

if you wish to save your trees and get rid of Oriental bittersweet, herbicides can be used for the eradication of bittersweet vines; use Roundup (glyphosate) or Ortho Brush-B-Gon, a triclopyr-based herbicide. The best time to halt the invasion is while the vines are still hugging the ground and have not yet had a chance to climb your trees. Here's how you should use these herbicides in such cases:
  • Mix them with water in a sprayer, carefully following label instructions
  • Once the plants have leafed out, apply the herbicide on a still, sunny day to the above-ground vegetation
  • Re-apply as necessary
Patricia Fischer Replied October 15, 2013, 12:12 PM EDT

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