April 2021: Get Those Invasives

An invasive plant is a plant that outcompetes native plants in an ecosystem. Most invasive plants are not useful in our food web. Often, pollinators can’t use the pollen or nectar. Butterflies and moths may not have the ability to use the plant as a host for their caterpillars. The plant may not be palatable to animals, which is part of the reason it proliferates so well.

Late March into April is a great time to look for some key invasives: oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry, and winged euonymous.


Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

The vines of oriental bittersweet are easy to spot, while many trees and shrubs remain leafless. Vines can grow as thin as a child’s pinky, or as thick as the span of an adult’s palm. These larger vines are often called mother vines.

Mother vines twisting together

The bark on oriental bittersweet is furrowed and pocked. (The thick vines of poison ivy are hairy, and native grapevine has soft, peeling bark.) The younger vines are smoother, and if allowed unchecked, can smother trees and shrubs.

Oriental bittersweet climbing canopy trees.

Cut down oriental bittersweet with loppers or pruners for small vines, and a handsaw for the larger vines. Do not pull the vines from the trees or shrubs – that can damage the plants you’re trying to save! Instead, the vines will die out, and eventually fall apart themselves.


Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

Japanese barberry leafs out early, and its greenery is easy to see.

Japanese barberry is a small, ornamental shrub that has escaped cultivation.

The leaves are arranged in clusters above spines.

Japanese barberry can come in different colors. Rely on shrub shape, leaf clusters, and spines to identify Japanese barberry. The best way to get rid of this shrub without chemicals is to clip it to the ground with a long set of loppers.


Winged euonymous (Euonymous alatus)

This shrub begins to leaf out in April. Until then, it’s super easy to spot. Often tall, the twigs have “wings.”

Look closely at the above photo – along the green stem are brown “wings.”

Here’s a trunk with the “wings.”

Once they leaf out with many other spring shrubs and trees, they can be a little harder to see from afar. But just wait until fall:

No doubt you recognize this bush. “Burning bush” is another popular common name for winged euonymous. It is found in many backyards, but unfortunately it’s become another invasive ornamental that has spread to our woodlands. Cut this one to the ground!