Tag Archives: American Bittersweet

Strangler Vine Found

A friend told me about the strangler vines. These vines were wrapping around trees on property her mother lived on and seemed able to kill even large oaks. What were these?

I had never heard of nor seen these strangler vines. My Missouri guide to shrubs and woody vines had nothing listed that sounded like these monsters. It was winter so we would wait until spring and the arrival of leaves and flowers.

Spring came and the strangler vines were shoved aside by so many other things. Spring and summer are such busy times full of kids, gardening and hiking.

One route I make to photograph flowers goes along a creek down to where it empties into the Meramec River. The road loops up over a hill with the creek down a sheer drop along one side.

New Jersey Tea flowers

New Jersey Tea is a small shrub about a foot tall most of the time. It has bottle brush mounds of white flowers for a week or so.

Sometimes I think I should get bored walking the same route several times. Yet each time the route has changed. New flowers are blooming. New plants I didn’t notice before.

One time the New Jersey Tea was coming into bloom. Another time I found a wahoo tree in bloom.

Plants are nice to photograph because they don’t run away. They do get lost. I lost the wahoo tree.

Wahoo tree flower

Wahoo trees are tree like shrubs around here as they move into old or neglected pastures then disappear when taller trees move in. They have deep maroon to brown flowers in early summer and brilliant red berries in the fall.

This is a smaller tree with small trunk, slender branches. I thought I remembered where it was along the road except it wasn’t there.

The tree could disappear if it got cut or knocked down but I didn’t think that. It had to still be there.

Careful searching found the wahoo tree. It also found a strangler vine.

smaller strangler vine

Like a gray snake the strangler vine wraps itself around a grape vine on its way up into the tree canopy. Side branches shoot off to wrap themselves around other trees or grape vines.

There is no mistaking strangler vines. They wrap around a trunk sending branch vines off to wrap around other trees.

The vines were small, perhaps an inch in diameter wrapped around a grape vine. I crept to the edge of the precipice not wanting to suddenly drop twenty feet or so to the creek below. A branch was within reach.

The vine had bloomed earlier as berries were swelling on petioles coming from the leaf nodes. The leaves were oval edged with tiny teeth.

strangler vine leaf

The strangler vine has almost round leaves lined with small teeth. The veins show strongly on the underside. they give the vine its other name of Round Leaf Bittersweet.

Then I spotted the base of the vine. It looked like a boa constrictor strangling a small oak. This part of the vine was a good four inches in diameter.

Although calling these strangler vines is appropriate, they had to have another name. I went searching.

Gardeners on the East Coast in the late 1800’s imported vines for their gardens. These vines had brilliant red berries with orange shields in the fall. They were also a disaster waiting to happen.

These vines are Oriental Bittersweet not to be confused with the native American Bittersweet. The Oriental vines get much bigger, are very aggressive and deadly to the trees they strangle and girdle, cutting off the flow of nutrients and water in the trunks.

larger strangler vine

This strangler vine looks like a boa constrictor wrapped around a small tree. As the boa squeezes its prey so does the strangler vine choking and girdling the tree until it dies. The strangler vine is officially Oriental Bittersweet.

The Oriental vines have almost round leaves. Their berries are all along the vine from leaf nodes.

American Bittersweet vines have elliptical leaves. Their berries are on the tips of the vines.

Cutting the strangler vines can save a tree but will not stop the vines from attacking other trees. The vines should be cut and an herbicide or other deadly to plants liquid put on the base cut side.

Although the strangler vines are not officially listed as growing in the wild in Missouri, they are here. Watch for them. Please don’t plant them. The American version is much prettier and not hazardous to your trees.