GREEN VALLEY — The High Country Habitat Restoration Coalition hosted an invasive species clean up day on Oct. 21 at Green Valley Community Park to battle oriental bittersweet, a vining plant that is highly destructive to native ecosystems and growing in the High Country.

Oriental bittersweet grows at a rapid pace, according to Kylie Barnes from MountainTrue, an environmental organization serving the southern Blue Ridge under which the HC Habitat Restoration Coalition is organized.

She said at the Green Valley Community Park once a different invasive plant, multiflora rose, was removed the oriental bittersweet received more sun and grew quickly. Bittersweet’s vines wrap tightly around tree trunks and branches, choking them. When it grows large enough the vines can weigh down branches and snap them. Climbing from limb to limb, oriental bittersweet can do significant damage to native trees.

“We’re trying to cut the root about an inch above the ground and then apply this herbicide,” said Barnes.

Barnes said that while herbicide isn’t ideal, it is the best way to control the bittersweet. The HC Habitat Restoration Coalition volunteers do not spray herbicide on all the vegetation, but instead use small bottles with sponge-tips which they dab on the cut end of the bittersweet’s root to apply the herbicide directly to the desired plant.

Bittersweet stands out against the rest of the brush at the park. Yellowing a bit earlier than the other plants, it is a dense vine with round leaves and, during the fall, bright red berries in yellow casings. During the fall, the berries make the vine easy to spot, but also quick to spread as birds eat the berries and distribute them across long distances.

According to the North Carolina Forest Service, oriental bittersweet was introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1800s for ornamental purposes. Now, it is a popular garnish for holiday decorations although many environmentalists, including those with the HC Habitat Restoration Coalition, ask holiday decorators to not use the plant so that the berries do not spread the plant in the local landscapes.

While the red berries are attractive, local plant nurseries or greenhouses can provide alternatives for holiday decorations and wreaths.

The High Country Habitat Restoration Coalition will be hosting more invasive plant cleanup days in community spaces across the region. On Oct. 28, they will be at the Boone Greenway and they will be at the Valle Crucis Community Park on Nov. 4. To learn more or sign up for workdays, visit mountaintrue.org/eventscalendar/.

Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member for Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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