On the mountain behind our family cemetery in Courtdale is a sparking profusion of oriental bittersweet, looking like natural Christmas ornaments spread throughout the forest. But it’s also a bad boy.
Introduced to the U.S. in the 1860s as an ornamental plant, it is still widely planted for this reason. It is a prolific seed producer, and distributed by birds.
Asiatic bittersweet — as its also known — forms dense thickets which prevent lower plants from photosynthesizing, and strangles shrubs and small trees by girdling their roots. It is displacing native America bittersweet by out-competing it and hybridizing with it.
To protect the native bittersweet, and since it is difficult to tell the two apart, it’s best not to pick any bittersweet but instead admire it where you find it.