Celastrus orbiculatus - Oriental Bittersweet Vine

Animated Image of the Occurrences of Celastrus orbiculatus Over Time
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Like most of the invasive plant species we are battling today, C. orbiculatus was purposely brought to America, and only later was its destructive potential realized.  Oriental Bittersweet Vine (an Asian native) was first introduced to North America in 1879 (Dreyer 1985),which is late in the nineteenth century compared to the other plants discussedon this web site.  It was also noted in Fernald's "Noteworthy Plants of Southeastern Virginia" (1938) as naturalized in that state and spreading towards southeastern New York.

Although the first published record found thus far for Massachusetts is for 1966, it is highly probable that the plant was present in the state far before then.  One problem with identification is that C. orbiculatus looks very similar to the native and formerly abundant C. scandens(American Bittersweet).  Most of the floras researched for this project listed C. scandens as being present, and it is possible that these plants were misidentified as the native species for many years before people recognized that a new species had invaded.  The plant is currently found along roadsides and at the edges of forests (Gleasonand Cronquist 1991).

There are several characteristics of C. orbiculatus that make it a better competitor than its native cousin.  Oriental Bittersweet Vine produces fruits that are a brighter shade of red, and also producesmore of them, so that birds are more likely to disperse the seeds of C.orbiculatus than C. scandens.  These seeds also have ahigher rate of germination.  C. orbiculatus is also better at photosynthesizing, with the ability to absorb light from a wider range of the spectrum (Dreyer 1985). The result is that the Asian invader has displaced the native plants rightout of their habitat niche.

There are other reasons besides increased fruit production and seed germination rates why C. orbiculatus is so abundant.  Human interference has caused this species to become an even more prominent part of the Massachusetts landscape.  This woody vine was at first seenas a great way to control soil erosion, and its planting was encouraged along roadsides.  The horticultural industry was also responsible for the sale and propagation of this species for many decades.  Finally,the seeds of C. orbiculatus are often spread to dumps and other waste places through the disposal of dried flower arrangements which contain the aesthetically pleasing fruits of Oriental Bittersweet Vine (Dreyer1985).

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