Plentiful Bounty

Bittersweet vine

Bittersweet vine

In our area of New England, there is a bounty of fruit this year, perhaps due to plentiful spring rain or from plants’ natural response to the dearth of fruit last year. Apples, sumacs, rosehips, barberries, winterberries and that rapidly invasive bittersweet, all are simply loaded. It is good news for robins, bluebirds and cedar waxwings that eat mostly fruit over winter. These birds used to migrate south but many no longer do, relying on this fruit to sustain them. Birds digest the fruit but seeds pass through, helping to spread the plants. It’s a win/win for plant and bird. Unfortunately, many of these plants are considered invasive.

Japanese Barberry

Japanese Barberry

One response is resistance: we remove invasives where we find them. It is a monumental task as many have a couple hundred year head start, even wild apple trees are not native. It is not likely that we will ever eliminate invasive plants entirely. Awareness is important so we do not propagate species known to be invasive. With educated choices, we can try to do our best.

Japanese Privet

Japanese Privet

Second is acceptance: to me, the horse is out of the barn, and with each passing year the birds disseminate more seeds that create yet more plants. A Penn State University study has indicated that birds are adapting to invasives and have come to depend on them for food and shelter. To remove invasives in a broad sweep would impact their reproduction. This is the way the world has always been: species come and go, the only difference is that humans have accelerated this to a rather alarming degree.

Bittersweet vine wreath

Bittersweet vine wreath

Why not use invasive berries to make arrangements for the holidays? A wreath can be made of bittersweet vine by wrapping and weaving it around and around itself in a circle until it looks full and pleasing to the eye. Add feathers, pinecones, anything that strikes your fancy or weave in evergreens to give a fuller look. Hang or use as a centerpiece with candles.

Use heavy gloves to gather and snap off thorns of multiflora rosehips, then pack stems tightly in a clear glass vase. Add sprigs of pine for a festive holiday look.


Rosa multiflora rosehips with white pine

Experiment by grouping different berries together: orange bittersweet and blue privet or red barberries and pink-red autumn olive. When these decorations pass, throw them in the trash as opposed to outside over a bank or in the woods. Look at it as a win/win. You decorate your home while eliminating invasive species from the landscape.

On the other hand, if you do use native plants to decorate, after the holidays put them in a birdfeeder or throw them where you’d want more to grow. Hopefully, the birds instead will be happily spreading native sumac and winterberry.

American Robin on Winterberry  ©Janet Allen

American Robin on Winterberry ©Janet Allen

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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9 Responses to Plentiful Bounty

  1. As a scientist, I absolutely loved this blog. I love what you say about invasives- that they have a couple hundred years head start. I love the idea of acceptance coupled with awareness- great application for so many things in life 🙂

  2. Spy Garden says:

    Excellent advice. We have made a plan to remove all of the invasive honeysuckle from our property (not TOO daunting as it is only 1 acre). Glad to know the privet is also invasive. I sort of like the look of it but would rather grow something native.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Along our river I’d say coverage is probably 90% invasive. I used to wring my hands over it, but I’ve had to come to accept that it would be a Sisyphean task to eliminate the knotweed, multiflora rose, honeysuckle and bittersweet. We joke about flamethrowers and other Rambo fantasies, but “resistance is futile, Grasshopper!” The songbirds love the thickets as do the grouse and cottontails, so I focus on that.

  3. Sharon K. says:

    Just a wonderful post, Eliza. Makes makes me want to head to the woods and harvest some of these beauties for natural holiday arrangements.

    Your philosophy on acceptance is wise.

    I love bittersweet but don’t see much here in the Midwest.

    The wreath and table arrangements are lovely.

    Cheers to the weekend!


    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thank you for your kind comments, Sharon. Yes, bittersweet is lovely, that is why it got planted here originally. As with most of invasive species like honeysuckle and privet, they possess beautiful berries. However, be thankful there isn’t much bittersweet around your area. It is a nasty thing that chokes and strangles every host it climbs on. Another example is Japanese knotweed – if I am objective, it has so much to recommend it – it grows quickly and provides a screen or hedge within months, the foliage is attractive and turns golden yellow then a lovely cinnamon color in fall. It’s covered with a froth of white flowers in late summer that look like mounds of snow, all so beautiful, but it is tenacious, its roots are impossible to remove and it spreads like wildfire. Planting an invasive is opening the proverbial Pandora’s box. Unfortunately, just like Pandora, we do not realize it until it is too late.

  4. Eva PoeteX says:

    Such lovely photos… wow! 🙂

  5. Robbie says:

    Those are beautiful examples of decorating for the holidays from outside. Your photos are inspiring, too! I wish I had more space to put in some more lovely berry bushes. Nothing is as beautiful as a tree filled with berries and waxwings..they just stop by our climate briefly on their way and devour our berries and move on..they are so beautiful!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Kudos for providing migration food! What a great gift for the birds. Cedar waxwings are one of my favorite birds, their feathers are so smooth-looking, their crest, ‘eyeliner’ and those bright orange pinfeathers that give them their name – a lovely bird indeed.

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