Is it Kudzu? Wild Grape? No – it’s Porcelain Berry! Yikes!
Kudzu is the vine that ate the south, but Porcelain Berry has set its sights on the mid-Atlantic. It has earned the title “the vine that’s choking the mid-Atlantic.” Ampeloposis brevipedunculata is a fierce and capable vine, known – and still sold – as Porcelain Berry and Porcelain Vine. You’ve probably seen this deceptively pretty plant turning forests into shapeless masses straight out of the twilight zone in Maryland, or on a trip anywhere from southern Wisconsin through West Virginia (where it runs up against Kudzu). If 11 states (and D.C.) have listed it as invasive, it should be a warning to all of us.
The dreaded plant was originally imported in 1870 as a pretty ground cover. Like Kudzu, the result is disastrous. Cultivation of the plant is outright banned in Massachusetts because of its insatiable appetite for forests, which it devours. Like Kudzu, it starts out at the edges, covers and smothers the trees there, then moves deeper and deeper in as a result of the increased sunlight near the dead trees. Denizens of the Eastern Shore can easily see its eerie green “sculptures” menacing Route 50 where once lovely shrubs used to grace the views.
It’s time to unite against Porcelain Berry! Right now is the time to take the first steps. Walk around your yard, paying particular attention to high sunlight areas with ground shade. Like other vines, it likes the sun but wants cool roots, so you will often find it nearby honeysuckle and wild grape, and some of its leaves look very, very like grape leaves (Ampeloposis brevipedunculata is in the same family as grape, “Vitis”). This sneaky plant can have three differently shaped leaves on the same vine, so, when in doubt, yank it out.
In the fall you’ll see the berries that give it its name. The pretty berries do feed birds – they’re considered poor nutrition, but birds are hungry and will eat it, only to fly away and plant it somewhere else. The vines will kill mature trees, even mighty oaks, by shading them completely from sunlight. Once they’ve covered the once healthy forest area, most of the wildlife disappears.
Do your best to help us all. Remove the plant from your property, hopefully, before it’s too well established. Pull the entire plant and place it in the trash. If you can’t pull it out – large plants will have tap roots and a virtual jungle of surface roots – cut all the vines near the ground and “paint” the stumps with Roundup/glyphosate. Don’t place this in a compost heap or pile it in an unused area as the seeds will sprout wherever it is. Birds will find it, too, and spread it even further.
While wild grape dangles its flowers and berries, Porcelain berry holds them high above the vine, where they’re easily seen. You may see the two together, which can be confusing; porcelain berry even uses wild grape to help it climb further faster. Don’t worry if you pull them both out at once.
Watch for it next year, too. Sites listed below can give you a full education on mastering the art of Porcelain Berry eradication, and the National Park Service will provide training with its Weed Warrior program.
Hope these pictures help, and please, please, get rid of any Porcelain Berry you see. Let’s prevent the vine from eating the mid-Atlantic!
Maureen Rice is a master naturalist living in and writing from Talbot County, Maryland.