On the side of a house on Orange Street, this incredibly twining vine impressed me. I was on my first tentative urban plant walk in New Haven, seeing if there were any plants to observe, despite it being the dead of winter. Somehow I was drawn to the space between two houses, where I found this vine twining tightly around itself and everything else it could reach.
Pipes, cables and a fire ladder all provided a core for its tight helices, which spiraled ever upward.
A closer look showed the plant to be a real winter beauty. Bright red seed-pods, looking like spicy peppercorns, were framed by orange petals, welcome points of bright color in the otherwise gray landscape.
Hoping to identify the plant, I asked my friends at the Marsh Botanic Gardens, who pointed me to the excellent book Weeds of the Northeast. There I found that this plant has the romantic name of Bittersweet, which struck my fancy, but unfortunately, Eric Larson at Marsh Gardens informed me that it was probably the invasive species, Oriental Bittersweet, which is crowding out the native American Bittersweet. Not only is Oriental Bittersweet a menace to its native relative, but it threatens other plants as well: the book says that “it can strangle other shrubs and small trees by girdling their stems.” Ouch! Well, looking at the number it’s done on the cables and pipes on this wall, I guess I can believe it. On top of that, its fruit has been reported to be toxic to people.
Well, I guess we here at Urban Plant Research reserve the right, as artists, to enjoy the form of our green neighbors without necessarily making moral judgements about their behavior. I am still happy that this plant brightened my day with its colors and its tenacious upward spirals, even if it is less than kind to its sister plants.