Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another unhealthy tradition

Let's face it; every year there is some new revelation about the dangers of the holiday season. For a while, we were told to buy artificial trees to save our forests, only to learn later about some issues around their manufacture. In addition, stopping the flow of catalogs can require more effort than merely recycling them. This season, environmental officials in Massachusetts have issued a new warning: a couple of our most festive-looking plants are invasive and should not be used for decorating.

I remember taking the advice of a friend during my early lean years of living in Jamaica Plain: the bittersweet that grew freely on the fence of a nearby tennis court could be cut and made into a wreath or stuffed in a vase for some instant color. It was the perfect time of the year, as the red berries had popped out from their tannish-yellow casing, a nice two-toned effect. Well, in the process of using cuttings, those berries can drop, and spread across fields, forests, and yards, choking out other plants.I should know this by now. Although I haven't decorated with bittersweet since moving into our current home, we have been battling this nasty knot of it that has been clinging to the roof and side of our garage and along the driveway fence on and off for years. The problem is compounded by the difficulty in reaching some of it. Those branches hang over our neighbor's yard, and because our driveway is about 8 feet higher and the fence unstable, anyone trying to cut it down risks falling a dangerous distance. We tried to stay on top of it when our neighbors grew tomatoes in that part of their yard, but when they moved away and rented their house to non-gardeners we let things go.

I know now that simply cutting it back won't suffice, as the berries will fall and spread. Carol Stocker has recommended applying an herbicide known as Brush-B-Gon on cut stems, and as much as I have avoided using chemicals, I may have no other choice. Time to stop procrastinating and get up on that ladder.


Daphne said...

I just want to add that it is the oriental bittersweet that is invasive. The American bittersweet is not (and is becoming quite rare). They are very similar plants. You can tell them apart because the oriental bittersweet has thorns.

Oh and you just reminded me how much work it was to quit getting so much junk mail. That really is a pain, but afterward you life is so much easier. So much less to haul to the transfer station for recycling. So much less mail to go through each day.

Sally said...

Hi Daphne, you're right about the difference. I don't remember which variety I found growing in JP so I didn't specify, but it seems that I now have a rugged oriental on my hands. The thorns are blunt so I had not really thought of them as thorns. Thanks.

I have not been as diligent as you regarding stopping the catalogs. If we in Boston had to haul or recycling to a transfer station I'm sure I'd be more proactive. You can stuff a lot in those blue bins we take to the curb!

Giulietta the Muse said...

Hi Sally,

Never would have thought a "dead" wreath could wreak such havoc on the living. Fascinating info on invasive species (IS). They are like viruses that mutate to self-perpetuate. If we didn't cut them back, they'd strangle everything or so it seems.

Do these IS have any natural predators? Or are they unkillable?

All very veggie scifi.

Giulietta, always musing in a rebellious sort of way

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