Opinion: It’s Time to Cut the “BS” (“Bittersweet” vines, that is)

Bittersweet vines choke out native trees along Fort Eddy Road in Concord.

Bittersweet vines choke out native trees along Fort Eddy Road in Concord. Courtesy


For the Monitor

Published: 10-25-2023 1:00 PM

Beth York lives in Concord. She is a local teacher and the daughter of two devoted preservers of local forestland, Kent and Meredith Allen.

No, this is not another tired tirade over today’s political landscape. This is, instead, a sincere call to arms regarding our literal landscape. This fall, as we are taking in New Hampshire’s beautiful fall foliage displays, many of us are likely noticing the disturbing prevalence of a now gold-leafed vine that is wrapping itself around, engulfing and destroying many of our beautiful native trees.

This vine is Oriental Bittersweet, (aka the “BS” mentioned in the headline). It’s an invasive plant that was brought to the United States during the late 1800s and has been spreading across the East Coast and upper Midwest ever since. A drive down Fort Eddy Road in Concord or just about any back road in Hopkinton will reveal the decimation this vine is wreaking as it climbs up, weighs down and essentially suffocates our native trees.

A prolific and tenacious invasive species, Bittersweet reproduces quickly and can be challenging to eradicate. According to one NH Department of Agriculture publication, Bittersweet seeds have a 90% germination rate, and those that do not germinate, can remain viable for a year. Each berry contains five seeds. Some germinate where they drop while others are spread by birds and animals who consume them. They are also spread, sometimes unwittingly, by us. Drawn by its beautiful late-season red and gold berries, we cut and carry (or order on Etsy, believe it or not) berry-laden branches to brighten our mantles and fall arrangements. When we discard them, we facilitate the spread of this devastating invasive.

So, what can we do to combat this invader? We can start in our own backyards. Bittersweet shoots are easier to pull from the ground when the soil is damp. Uprooted vines should be placed on a surface where they cannot reroot, and left there until they have completely gone-by. Dropping them where they are pulled or throwing them in a compost pile allows them to reestablish. We can also cut mature vines before they produce berries, and continue cutting them and any off-shoots they create every two weeks to weaken the roots and destroy the plant.

Many of our neighbors are dealing with significant infestations of Bittersweet and will need help with mitigation. The UNH Cooperative Extension, the NH and US Departments of Agriculture, among many others, label Oriental Bittersweet as an invasive species, and we currently have an Invasive Species Coordinator who is already combating this and other invasives in our state. The infrastructure is in place. Municipalities can access New Hampshire’s Invasive Species Remediation Fund to support mitigation efforts. Farmers and private property owners can reach out to the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to see if they qualify for management funds.

Many of us have chosen New Hampshire because of its natural beauty. To protect it, we can encourage our cities and towns to access these existing resources, and we can look to our own backyards to initiate a much-needed collective effort to literally cut the “BS” and preserve our beautiful New Hampshire landscape.

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