It’s Pretty, but It’s Bad News


blue, green, and pink berries

It’s August, and that means the porcelainberries are out.

The first time I noticed this plant, somewhere on the walk between home and work, I had no idea what I was seeing. Grapes? The leaves looked like grapes, but the fruits looked like so much more. Some kind of fabulous Easter confection. Chocolate covered in a hard candy shell, say.

A quick check with smart Facebook friends gave me the answer: Porcelainberry. And the hatred.

People really don’t like this plant. It’s an invasive species, but it used to be sold for planting in gardens. In fact, a lot of the references to it on the internet are still about what kind of yard it will thrive in. It’s a vine, a member of the grape family, and it has a habit of escaping and strangling other trees.

The one I stopped to look at Tuesday morning is growing on a fence along a railroad line, the kind of place where invasive species thrive.

Stopping invasive species seems a bit like trying to hold back a flood. How would you ever kill every single porcelainberry that has escaped domestication and spread across the eastern U.S.? Even as porcelainberry vines are destroyed by weed-fighting volunteers in nearby Rock Creek Park, this plant will still be here, offering its berries to hungry birds, who will eat the berries and poop the seeds everywhere.

Maybe someone will get ambitious some day and start eradicating invasive species from all the neglected lots, dormant construction sites, and unloved green spaces of the world. Until they get to this fence, I’ll get a kick out of those crazy fruits.

Photo: Helen Fields, Tuesday morning

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2 thoughts on “It’s Pretty, but It’s Bad News

  1. I only recently got to see the fruits of this vine. Until we had a tall tree fall near the creek, I thought all the vines I saw everywhere WERE grapevines. Imagine my surprise and curiosity when those odd-looking things that should have been grapes came down to my level for easy viewing.

    Getting rid of invasive plants seems like an impossible feat. I don’t bother with it, to tell you the truth. I use the vines of porcelain berry just like I would grape for making wreaths and crafty things. I don’t even know from the vine whether it’s a grape or not, really.

    Thanks for this great article on a plant I never see mentioned much except with vitriol.

  2. I have tallow trees on my property. I tried for years to kill them. A couple of years ago I gave up. I will go out about once a year and cut them down, but that’s just for my self satisfaction.

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