Healing the earth, one yard at a time.
Hello members and friends of Wild Ones River City Chapter,
We want you be on the lookout for the invasive Oriental Bittersweet and to be aware of the upcoming workshop on how to control it. Winter is a great time to take action and treat it. Also, read below about how to tell the difference between Native Bittersweet and the Oriental Bittersweet.

Ada Township Parks, in partnership with Kent Conservation District, presents:


Saturday, December 12 • 9:30–11:00 am
Volunteer service day following workshop 11 am–noon

Ada Township Park • 1180 Buttrick Ave SE

Suggested donation $5; pre-registration required by contacting the Ada parks office at (616) 676-0520 or e-mail

COVID-19 safety protocols to be followed, masks are required.

This outdoor workshop is targeted for landowners and others dealing with invasive plant issues with a focus on the destructive invasive Oriental Bittersweet vine.

Kent Conservation District strike team will teach you how to properly identify and treat invasive species. A discussion on identification and control techniques will be followed by a field observation and demonstration. Fall and Winter is the best time of the year for woody invasive control.

For more info: or

Download the event flier

More Bitter Than Sweet: The Invasive Vine That is Taking Over Healthy Forest Communities

by Rebecca Marquardt, WORC Program Co-Chair

This past fall it was hard not to see the lemony-yellow leaved vine climbing up so many of the Oak and Hickory trees for which much of Kent County is known. Celastrus orbiculatus, otherwise known as Oriental Bittersweet, is an aggressive, non-native vine that can grow 12 feet a year, reach up to 90 feet and have a woody diameter of 10 inches.


The negative impact of this invasive plant has been gaining momentum for the last 150 years, as the species has expanded its range. Compounding this expansion is the hybridization with our beloved native species, American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Bittersweet is well revered as a beautiful vine with fruit that has an orange exterior that splits, revealing a crimson red berry inside. See below for a comparison of the native species and the invasive one.


’Autumn Revolution’ American Bittersweet*, above left, is noticeably different than the yellow-red berries of the Oriental Bittersweet, below. Notice also that the berries on the native American Bittersweet are in clusters at the end of the stem, whereas the berries on the invasive Oriental Bittersweet are dotted all along the stem.


The decorative feature of this vine comes from the fact that the female plants are prolific berry producers, which we can easily see in the barren woods during winter. In addition to the heavy seed bank below the vines and a high rate of germination, a wide range of birds eat and disperse the seeds far and wide, and those dried up seeds on the decorative wreaths we tossed into our woods germinate to become vines themselves. Wreaths of Oriental Bittersweet are technically classified as vectors of the spread of the invasive, in the same way ticks are vectors of Lyme’s disease. 
There are other reasons this invasive vine is considered aggressive. The climbing vine moves quickly, braiding with other vines to spiral up a mature tree or outright girdling a young tree to death. The potential impact this behavior has on the health of a forest community can be catastrophic. The weight of the heavy vines on the crown of a mature tree, makes it vulnerable to uprooting during a big storm. The effect of losing keystone species, as both mature and young trees, significantly alters the health of the ecosystem. The food web of insects, birds, mammals, fungi and bacteria that depend on the Oak, for example, are what make up a healthy forest community. Remove the Oak and the owls won’t have a home, and those songbirds you admire won’t have reason to stick around. 

Here, we see the red leaves of a young Oak and Sumac beginning to be swallowed by the yellow Oriental Bittersweet. We cannot see the trunk of the tree because the invasive vine has braided around it and will eventually girdle it to its death.
The strong presence of Oriental Bittersweet in our community is cause for real alarm. As Wild Ones members, we know well that invasive species pose threats to the natural landscape and to the species that belong here. It seems we need to help the communities in which we live understand that this vine is something like cancer in our woods. Jessie Schulte of the Kent Conservation District calls it “biological pollution”. No matter what association you prefer, the longer no action is taken, the more destructive it will become.
There is a solution. Thanks to people like Jessie and her team at Kent Conservation District (KCD), we can learn more about identification of this significant invasive vine as well as techniques and strategies to get rid of it. KCD offers trainings to landowners in land management practices such as the removal of invasive species. They can also be hired to do the hard work of removing the destructive Oriental Bittersweet from your landscape.

Many of our yards and properties have what might feel like an overwhelming prognosis, but with expertise and strategy, the KCD can prioritize and treat effectively. My family hired the KCD in the summer of 2019 to attack our infestation of Oriental Bittersweet. We have attended their trainings and have been able to pass that knowledge onto our neighbors. Eight households in our neighborhood are committed to taking back our woods from the invasive saboteur, and we will be working throughout the winter and next summer to make sure the owls and other wildlife here have a healthy home.

Ada Parks and the Kent Conservation District have an upcoming educational training on how to identify and treat Oriental Bittersweet in the winter, at Ada Township Park on Saturday, December 12 from 9:30 am–noon. It will be outside, so be sure to come dressed for the weather and stick around to help treat some of the large infestation at the park. The KCD will also be in Cascade, at Burton Park on December 19, 9 am–noon. To win the battle and defeat this destructive invasive species is going to take more than just a village—please join us to learn more and lend a hand.

For more information, see:

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