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Bittersweet Vine | Is the Invasive and Beautiful Plant Friend or Foe?

Bittersweet Vine | Is the Invasive and Beautiful Plant Friend or Foe?
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New Englanders know that the autumn blooming bittersweet vine is a catch 22. Loved for its beauty and versatility, yet loathed for its invasive and destructive ways. Bittersweet is an ornamental climbing vine that is native to Eastern Asia. It was brought over to the United States in the 1860’s and has been running rampant ever since. Hardy, fast growing and visually interesting, the vines of the bittersweet plant mirror the warm colors of autumn upon reaching maturation. Reddish-brown creeping stems and leaves support clusters of tiny yellow flowers and orange berries that usually bloom just in time for autumn floral arrangements in the Northeastern part of the United States.

Bittersweet Vine

Bittersweet Vine

Bittersweet plant vines are not only eye catching, they are also versatile and pliable. They are easily bent to conform to almost any shape, allowing them to be effortlessly added to existing floral arrangements and wreaths as an accent, or to be used alone in construction of a free form autumn wreath. A sweet handmade heart shaped bittersweet wreath on the door or on a fence showcases the colors of the season with understated elegance. The vines also look festive grouped in a vase or urn. They are best suited for cooler indoor rooms or for outside display as the flowers and berries will fall off when exposed to warmer indoor temperatures, and they can stain clothing and flooring.


Colorful Bittersweet

To incorporate bittersweet berries into your fall décor, begin by cutting the vines while the berries are still green if possible, and form them into wreaths immediately. If you wait until the flowers and berries are in bloom, the flowers and fruits may drop off while you arrange the wreath.

Bittersweet is easily located all over New England as it has grown wildly out of control on roadsides, and can even be seen engulfing abandoned buildings in some areas. If you reside in North America, there is a high probability that you have a bittersweet source very close by. A word of caution — when left unregulated, established bittersweet vines will literally take over the landscape, smothering out native species of trees, shrubs and plantings. The tangled vines can also become so heavy that entire trees and plants may be uprooted once the bittersweet plant takes over. For these reasons and others, The United States Department of Agricultures has the bittersweet plant listed as a national invasive species. If you are enchanted by the bittersweet vine in autumn, go ahead and enjoy it for what it is, but heed its namesake warning and take care not to aid in the spread of this very deceptive vine.

Shelley Wigglesworth


Shelley Wigglesworth


Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth is a certified Maine Master Gardener and award winning newspaper columnist from Kennebunk, Maine. She has been writing for the York County Coast Star for more than a decade as a freelance columnist and features writer. In 2010 she began writing her own gardening column “The Master Gardener’s Notebook” for Tourist News. She also teaches gardening classes at local schools and colleges

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5 Responses to Bittersweet Vine | Is the Invasive and Beautiful Plant Friend or Foe?

  1. SANDRA JONES October 31, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Great photos of bittersweet. One of the “old fashioned” plants that my favorite Aunt used to use for decoration in the fall. Heaven help us if we dropped some on the carpet and left stains.

    • Shelley Wigglesworth November 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Sandra!

  2. David Quigg May 19, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    I made the mistake of letting bittersweet grow on top of a hedge row of diabolo nine bark. The bittersweet has almost smothered the ninebark out. At this point i am not sure i can save the nine bark. At one point is it impossible to save the ninebark. I have learned my lesson on bittersweet. To late in Champaign Illinois.

  3. C. Bagwell February 4, 2015 at 11:41 pm #

    Is there any way to get rid of this awful vine. It is taking over. Thanks

  4. Noreen W. May 18, 2015 at 11:43 am #

    Ortho Brush-b-Gon, painted on the cut stem. Read the article on line “hunting a colorful enemy in the yard” by Carol Stocker Boston Globe, October 2007

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