Yesterday I talked about clearing brush and making a fire. Today let’s talk about what I cleared, because it wasn’t just brush.

I didn’t realize trees could get covered with vines. Someone called them “bittersweet” but I can’t imagine that’s what these are. They climb. They make yellow/orange berries, and they look lovely, but they climb and twist, and I decided to pull them off my trees.

For one thing, when I look at my trees, I want to see trees, not trees covered with vines.

But for the more important thing, I can’t imagine this is good for the trees. The sheer weight of these vines has to be awful for them. So when I grabbed the clippers and began clearing my woods, I went after the vines first.

The Bible compares people to vines all the time. Israel is a vineyard; Christians are vines. Jesus is the vine. All of that. I always thought of vines as a good thing, due to the Bible’s view of them as good. Grape vines, for example. Who could object?

Well, now I can. Because this is what I found:

1) vines girdling trees. These vines would grow up the side of a tree, curling around it and strangling it, until the bark was deeply indented with the vine and they were so tightly interwound that I could barely get it clipped.

2) vines toppling trees with their weight

3) vines strangling trees so much that sometimes I would find a dead tree standing, held upright only by the still-living vine.

These vines weren’t soft, flexible and green, either. After a few years, they seem to become just as woody as the trees they’re strangling.¬†

It didn’t hurt the old trees as much as the young ones. The little trees hadn’t a prayer against the faster-growing, leafier and weightier vines.

I would clip them at their base and then try to yank them down from the tree. Sometimes it worked, and I’d end up dragging forty pounds of vine out to the driveway. And sometimes they’d be so knotted up in the tree that I’d just leave the severed vine hanging there, waiting to figure out it was really dead.

The trees have to be better off with that weight gone. Without something strangling off their nutrients and girdling their growth.

Really, those vines are like sin. When I pulled one down, I imagined my guardian angel pulling the sin off my soul and getting me to repent, and how free I’d feel, just like a tree with a vine pulled free so the sunlight could strike its leaves again and its trunk could stand straight.

But also, I realized how a tree carrying that weight in vines is like me when I’m overfunctioning. And yeah, the vine is pretty and maybe it deserves to live, but not when all it’s doing is adding weight and depriving the tree — or the overfunctioner — of sunlight and nutrients and strength and the ability to grow straight and tall.

I cut down every vine I could find. Every one of them. My trees are helpless, and I came along and cut off their evil assailant at the base, and I think I did my trees a favor.


  1. whiskers

    No, that really is bittersweet, and if you don’t want to keep it to make wreathes out of, my mother would be interested in it…

    The berries are quite decorative and sought after. I urge you to put up a trellis and keep some of it planted, just for the lovely color.


  2. philangelus

    Those orange berries opened up and there are red berries inside! They’re gorgeous, but I didn’t get a picture when they’d just opened.

    Don’t worry: I can’t eradicate all of them. There are thousands of the things. I just don’t want them using my trees as a trellis.

    I don’t think I can mail them to your mom. They’d be long-dead by the time they got delivered. But if she wants to stop by, I’ll show her several trees with a billion bittersweet berries on them. :-b And a “graveyard of sticks” in our woods where there are another thousand pounds of berries.

  3. whiskers

    Dead is the way she wants them. I told her about them at dinner tonight and her eyes just about bugged out. If you curl the vines into a standard “wreath” size and box them up, we would be willing to pay the shipping. Please e-mail me at to arrange the details.


  4. Cricket

    What we call bittersweet is in the deadly nightshade family. One tiny berry is enough to kill a medium dog — depending on the author and season. But I don’t remember a berry within a berry. Just don’t give it to the younger kids to play with, and wash your hands. (Then again, holly berries and lilly of the valley are also incrdibly poisonous, so the hand washing is just a good overall habit.) Also, if any of that ivy is “poison ivy”, don’t burn it at all — the oil spreads around in the smoke.

    I hear you about the overfunctioner getting strangled by the dependents!

    We had an arbourist look at our trees. Well worth the time for their advice, and great fun watching them swing around the branches thinning things out.

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  6. Ellen J. Keiter

    Hi there,
    Those are indeed bittersweet vines, as mentioned above by whiskers. You really did do your trees a favor by cutting every last one of them; you saved their lives. Yes, the berries are beautiful, but the vines, as you so wisely noted, are deadly to the trees. I have cut vines 4″ in diameter that had pulled down 70′ hardwood trees near Boston. Now you must be vigilant, as in life, to not let them creep back up and get going again. Your metaphor is perfect! The cut stems will resprout from the base, as will (eventually) all those millions of beautiful seeds.
    As far as I know, Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is not poisonous (sheep and goats love to eat the leaves), and is not related at all to deadly nightshade. It is common, however, for poison ivy to be growing in the same location as bittersweet, so do check for it and take proper precautions — including not burning the poison ivy!
    Oriental bittersweet, unlike our native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), is a non-native invasive species, introduced from China around 1860 as an ornamental. Because its seeds are so prolific, as you have noticed, it spreads easily and widely (thanks to birds eating the seeds!), so putting the seeds — whatever your friend doesn’t want to use for indoor decorations) — into plastic bags in the trash is actually the best thing you can do for your trees, and those of all your neighbors. Your trees are thanking you for all your hard work; just remember it’s not over yet! I salute your efforts as well, as this is one of my life’s passions. God bless.

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