Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bittersweet Wreath

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)--a robust, fast-growing vine with round leaves and buds sometimes mistaken for thorns--is a tough customer.   I remember finding maple trees with trunks turned to corkscrews by the vine's embrace.  In late fall, though, bittersweet comes into its glory, as yellow capsules split into fours to reveal bright orange seeds.  In autumns of my boyhood, I used to cut long vines of oriental bittersweet that hung over the stone wall that bordered the yard.  My mother would shape the vines into artful arrangements and sell them to a nearby handicraft shop. 

I was just reminded of this, seeing a bittersweet vine show that telltale orange, and it gave me an idea.  Oriental bittersweet would make a lovely addition to a holiday wreath, or could even be a wreath in itself.  And every bittersweet wreath hung on a door or gate would be a small gift to native plants: Celastrus orbiculatus is, after all, an alien invasive, probably doing more subtle harm to native ecosystems than just strangling the odd tree here and there.  And if your wreath-making habit became an annual tradition, so much the better!

 Oriental bittersweet, leaves gone, has begun opening its seed capsules.

Here's another alien invasive that is really lovely at this time of year: Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii).  Bright red fruit contrasts with the deep green leaves.  Make arrangements of these stems only with the heaviest leather gloves on--the thorns are needle-sharp!  As with bittersweet, you'll want pruning shears to cut the tough stems.

 Japanese barberry is deciduous, and its leaves have begun to fall.
But the stems are almost as pretty when leafless.

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