Porcelain Berry: Two Introductions

Before I began my nature study in Eliza Howell Park, I did not know Porcelain berry at all (it is sometimes called Amur peppervine). In the last few years, I find myself giving it more and more attention. Since many visitors to the park are not yet familiar with it, this might be is a good time for an introduction – rather, two introductions.

1.Porcelain berry is an ornamental vine with multicolored berries in September and October.

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Porcelain berry is a native of East Asia that was first brought to this country about 150 years ago as a landscape ornamental. It has escaped gardens and has now become established in a variety of places in the eastern part of the United States, slowly spreading west. It is apparently not yet widespread in Michigan.

This year the berry crop in Eliza Howell is heavy, with many opportunities to find scenes like this.

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The berries ripen to speckled blue, pink, purple, green, and other colors.

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Birds are attracted to the berries, especially when they are as abundant as they are this year. Robins, primarily fruit eaters in the fall, have already started on them.

Humans also find the berries edible, though the 2 – 4 seeds in each berry do not leave much room for pulp.

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2.Porcelain berry is a rapidly growing vine that covers shrubs and small trees.

The eye-catching nature of the berries is not the only way in which I want to introduce this vine. Especially when I am walking with individuals with an interest in habitat and plant variety, I want to point out how it can overtake and shade out other vegetation.

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The vines are very thick and spread rapidly; they can grow up trees 20 feet or more.

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Since I started observing a few patches in the park about a decade ago, it has spread to many other locations. It grows easily from seed. I now see it under many of the larger trees scattered within the road loop, probably started from seeds that passed through the birds that ate the fruit and then perched in the trees.

After a number of years, this is what can happen.

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Meet Porcelain berry: it is an ornamental distinguished by multicolored fruit; it forms thick mats that shade out other plants.

I will continue to observe and seek to know it better. I invite others to do the same.

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Five Climbing Vines: Watching the Fruit Develop

In late August and the first part of September, I often find myself visiting five different large perennial climbing vines that are found in Eliza Howell. I am watching the fruit develop and ripen.

1.Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper berries have just recently completed the transition from green to blue.

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These berries are eaten by many birds and some mammals, but humans are warned against eating them because of their toxicity.

Virginia Creeper is a woody vine, native to North America, and is found in forests and on the borders of clearings. The next picture is of a vine growing on a dead tree by the river.

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2. Porcelain-berry

Many people are surprised when they first see the fruit of Porcelain-berry; we do not expect fruit to be multicolored.

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These berries are reported to be safe to eat, but not very palatable. I have not yet done my own taste test.

Porcelain-berry was first imported from East Asia as an ornamental about 1870. The vines grow vigorously (apparently spread by birds dropping seeds) and can choke out other plants, including trees. It is becoming widespread in Eliza Howell, blanketing sections along open areas.

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3.Oriental Bittersweet

The fruit of this vine ripens later in the year than that of the others here. Currently, it looks like this.

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Also brought to the U. S. in the 1800s, Oriental Bittersweet also has the capacity to spread rapidly and to smother other species. It is not as widespread in the park as Porcelain-berry, but it is common.

Later in the Fall, the yellowish outer skin of the fruit opens to reveal the red seeds. They often hang on the vines well into the winter, when they can be an attractive addition to an after-the-snowfall scene. This picture is from early last November, not too long after they began to open.

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4.Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is, of course, best known for causing a painful itchy rash for most people who touch the plant. Since getting close to the plant is usually avoided, many do not know what the fruit looks like. I have been (carefully) observing how it progresses and this is what it looks like now.

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Poison Ivy vines grow high on a number of large trees in the park, with the foliage turning red in the Fall, often while the leaves of the host tree are still green. Some red is already starting to appear.

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5.Wild Grape

I earlier did a post on the grapes of Eliza Howell (“Vinland,” August 9, 2018), so will not repeat that information now, but simply point out that this is what the grapes look like now.

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Three of these large woody vines are native to North America; two were imported for gardens and “escaped” to the wild. Together, these five cover significant sections of the edges of wooded areas and climb many trees in the park. I find that this is a good time of the year to get to know them better, when their fruit clearly identifies them.