Avoid a Holiday Invasion!

Orange is okay, but give a yell for yellow! Native vine American bittersweet has orange seed capsules surrounding red berries in terminal clusters. Noxious invasive Oriental bittersweet has yellow seed capsules on berries along the length of the stem. Images: American bittersweet (LEFT) by Brett Whaley is licensed under CC BY-NC; Oriental bittersweet (RIGHT) by Esteve Conway is licensed under CC BY.


Halloween has come and gone, temperatures and leaves are falling, and our thoughts naturally turn to the winter holidays. Many people enjoy decorating using natural materials (so do we!), but you should take extra care to not use invasive plants in your seasonal decorations.

One plant in particular that often gets used is Oriental bittersweet. With bright red berries along its woody vines, Oriental bittersweet (or OB) is used to make wreaths and garlands. However, OB is a highly invasive and damaging vine. It strangles trees and blocks sunlight, effectively choking out other vegetation and ravaging the landscape. Its seeds are spread widely by birds and other wildlife, and it quickly grows, making management tedious work.

Fortunately, American bittersweet is a native vine with similar red berries which can be used decoratively in the same way. American bittersweet will not destroy trees, and has a welcome place within the Minnesota landscape.

Extension created two bittersweet identification videos for crafters or others working with bittersweet. The first is a short video about identification of Oriental bittersweet. The second video discusses both identification and forest damage due to Oriental bittersweet.

When harvesting or buying natural materials this fall, be sure you are using American, not Oriental bittersweet. A wreath providing berries to wildlife, or a vine thrown in the compost at the end of the season could result in an infestation! If you think you may have found Oriental bittersweet in the woods or being sold, report your find to Arrest the Pest.

If you find Oriental bittersweet on your property and would like to manage it yourself, watch our video Defeating a Killer Vine for information on how to correctly remove and treat infestations.

Additional resources:

Emily Dombeck
Emily is the UMN Extension Forestry Program Coordinator.

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