Popular Winter Berries May Be Harmful to Nearby Forests Use Care When Disposing of Bittersweet Decorations
February 5, 2002
Asheville, NC — The dried vines of Oriental bittersweet, with their vibrant orange berries, have become popular in winter decorations, used with dried florals and wrapped around trees and wreaths for a natural look. However, the bittersweet vine is not native to this area, and it spreads and replaces native plants. It is now becoming a serious threat to many native plant communities in the eastern United States, and is particularly abundant near Asheville. Forest Service scientists of the Southern Research Station have been studying the invasive strategies of bittersweet. Research by scientists at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest indicates that an important control strategy would be to minimize spread of the seeds from the vines by people, birds, and animals.
Oriental bittersweet was introduced to North America from southeast Asia in 1860 as an ornamental plant. A century later, this highly invasive woody vine had spread to 33 States. It grows especially well in open, disturbed sites, but also grows in low light conditions under closed canopies, responding with rapid growth if the canopy is removed Â an invasive strategy referred to as "sit and wait." As a rapid grower, it blocks out light needed by native vegetation, killing native plants, and weakening trees. People contribute to spreading the seeds by continuing to plant it as an ornamental, and by decorating with the berry stems and then discarding them outside.
The Bent Creek Experimental Forest is one of 26 units of the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station. It is located near Asheville on the Pisgah National Forest. The Southern Research Station is responsible for research and development related to forested ecosystems throughout the 13 Southern States.
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- Melissa Carlson