Unwanted and Unloved: Porcelain-berry!

This is the time of year when it becomes apparent that porcelain-berry is making a bold attempt at taking over the world. Or at least vast swathes of Virginia’s forests, especially those near urban areas. Suddenly those white flowers and multi-colored berries are appearing on what seemed yesterday to be innocent green vines…in fact, didn’t you think yesterday that those were grape vines?

Porcelain-berry showing the range of colors the berries assume during maturation process

Porcelain-berry showing the range of colors the berries assume during maturation process

One form of porcelain-berry leaf

One form of porcelain-berry leaf

Experienced weed warriors know the difference, but to the casual observer, the invasive exotic porcelain-berry, (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), does bear a strong resemblance to our native grapes. Both, in fact, are in the same family, Vitis.

And to complicate matters for people trying to learn to identify it in the field, the leaves of porcelain berry can assume greatly varied forms, even on the same vine.

Porcelain-berry showing an alternate form of the leaf

Porcelain-berry showing an alternate form of the leaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porcelain-berry inflorescence and berries, typically upward facing

Porcelain-berry inflorescence and berries, typically upward facing

Thankfully, an easy ‘tell’ shows up this time of year for those struggling with ID. The inflorescence of the P. berry vine is a cymose panicle – its umbrella-shaped top sticks up. The berries also are held upwards, even when the vine is dripping downward.  For more tips on P. berry ID, click here: Porcelain-berry Fact Sheet

The inflorescence of our native grapes are panicles that are broad at the base, tapered at the tip, and droop downward, as do the fruits that follow, just like the grapes you are used to seeing in vineyards. Harder to find photos of the native grapes around the urban areas, too, click here to see some: Native Vitis

Native grape species grow inflorescence and fruit in downward facing habit

Native grape species grow inflorescence and fruit in downward facing habit

Listed by the Department of Natural Heritage in the ‘Highly Invasive’ class, porcelain-berry is a serious threat to our native plant communities. Like all the plants called invasive exotics, it grows rapidly and has few pests because it did not evolve here with the checks and balances of competition from the plants and animals that live here. Instead it takes the place of the plants that supply the resources our native wildlife needs. The Flora of Virginia describes it as “A troublesome, shade tolerant invasive species capable of strangling native forest vegetation.”

Invasive exotics like porcelain-berry, japanese honeysuckle, and oriental bittersweet vines can literally smother forests

Invasive exotics like porcelain-berry, japanese honeysuckle, and oriental bittersweet vines can literally smother forests

 

 

At Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, porcelain-berry is one of the top seven invasives the National Park Service (NPS) has targeted for removal. Quite a number of Virginia Native Plant Society members have taken the Weed Warrior training the NPS offers, and meet there to engage in the rewarding work of freeing up the natives so important to the marsh ecology.

Ken Adams, currently the Warrior-in-Charge at the Dyke Marsh location,demonstrated some useful techniques recently for battling the thick top layers of porcelain vine that blanket large areas there.  Often it is impossible to know what plants are still alive under the P.berry vine, which kills what it grows over by blocking the sunlight.

Ken Adams demonstrates proper weed warrior techniques. This spicebush was one of the victories at Dyke Marsh.

Ken Adams demonstrates proper weed warrior techniques. This spicebush was one of the victories at Dyke Marsh.

First, lift the vines up and away, and then begin to cut through the stems. The NPS system calls for leaving the plant material onsite, allowing nutrients and organic matter to be kept in place, unless ripe seeds are present. As a wider hole begins to open up, it is easier to see what is underneath and to see where to make more cuts. This method works with any of the other invasive vines as well. Work in a circle if possible, to let the light reach inside the ‘tent.’ Native plants still alive under the covering will regenerate with access to sunlight. Be sure to cut the vines that are connecting to nearby plants. The tree under this mass had been covered for too long, it had died. However, many natives have been released from their invasive prisons, like this lucky spicebush, (Lindera benzoin), so pleasantly fragrant to work around.

Serious  methods are needed to completely eradicate the porcelain-berry plant, but cutting back the fruiting vines right now is a helpful step to take.

sue dingwell

 

Comments

  1. Nancy Vehrs says:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. abdul rahim says:

    recently i worked on this plant. it is a hell of a job. probably need herbicides to wipe it out.

  3. Removed a massive infestation of porcelain berry along Coles Brook in Hackensack, NJ. The mother vine was cut at it’s base and the roots mostly removed. It was 4″ in diameter and at least 30 years old

    • VNPS Communications says:

      Good job, Eric; that took dedication! It’s always great to hear about progress. Keep up the good work!

  4. Thank you! I am in central NC where the native muscadine grape consistently fights for possession of my 1/2 acre. I found a “grape vine” of another variety and warning buzzers went off in my mind. It is growing in the shade and has not yet produced berries. Variation in leaf shapes indicate it is this Porcelain Berry. Gonna rid before berries! Whew.

  5. I have a serious porcelain berry infestation. My 1/2 acre is bordered by a retention pond full of it on north side and a neighbor who lets it flourish on the south. The vine is in all my beds and beds.
    I feel it is a losing battle until I get some help.
    Any suggestions?

    • VNPS Communications says:

      Terry, we feel your pain! Thanks for taking the time to write in with your problem. If you live in the area they cover (see map on their homepage), the Blue Ridge Prism is a non-profit battling insvasives that will send out a consultant. They may also be able to help guide you to local resources if they are not in your area. Blue Ridge Prism: http://blueridgeprism.org/
      You should also contact your Cooperative Extension Agent: https://ext.vt.edu/

      Good luck!

  6. Barry Zischang says:

    There are two sides to every story. Yes this vine is highly invasive, but it is literally covered with my honey bees as we speak. It is growing on a steep hill below our house, so clearing it out by hand would be extremely difficult. Herbicides are out of the question because of the bees, and also because we live above a tidal inlet. So maybe this fall I’ll clamber down and pare them back away from some of the small trees they are choking out, but I think this will be a case of learning to live with it. The bees seem to appreciate it!

    • VNPS Communications says:

      Nope, only one side…. Agree that control on your site is going to be a job that extends into the future, but a task well worth the effort. Those small trees the porcelainberry is killing are critical components to your tidal inlet; shade and the nutrient content of your detritus key among them. On the other hand, those honeybees are not critical components of the ecosystem, they are not the native bees and in no way useful to the regional Virginia tidal inlet. The porcelainberry is also choking the native wildflowers and shrubs that could be empowering other wildlife that is native to your area, and now going un-supplied. Every newly planted vine from the spread of your patch is detrimental to a new place. Please see: https://www.wired.com/2015/04/youre-worrying-wrong-bees/ and this is another resource you might find useful: http://www.gettingmoreontheground.com/
      From our VA Dept of Conservation and Rec, how to control tips: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/document/fsambr.pdf
      And! Thank you so much for taking time to comment! Good luck with your long-term control.

  7. Chrystal DAVENPORT says:

    I have these in my back yard herein Washington DC, so beautiful but everywhere. All over the fence, trees and house

  8. Lenny Delaney says:

    First time seen in Woburn, MA They have come out of nowhere and are teaming up with this long thin leaf vine that has small thorns

  9. Matt Molinski says:

    Found this at harkness memorial state park in Waterford, CT.

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