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Informational Screw-ups over Porcelainberry

Porce Doing my summer weeding, I yanked this 10-foot-long porcelainberry vine and was so impressed by it I made it pose for a photo, then researched it online.  At 10 feet on June 15 it would no doubt have reached the 20 feet predicted for it.

Googling this famous invasive menace produced one primary source of information about it – from the National Park Service.  Most other authoritative sources (like this one) simply lift their information about porcelainberry directly from the National Park Service. 

So here's the attractive visual and with all the important data about the plant, Fullscreen capture 8152010 15158 PM-1

including this quote: "In spite of its aggressiveness in some areas, it is still widely used and promoted in the horticultural trade."

Really?Porce

Wow, who knew the horticultural trade was as environmentally oblivious as BP?  Or are they?  I asked John Peter Thompson (expert on both invasive plants and the horticultural industry) and he told me that nurseries stopped selling it almost a decade ago and that now it's really hard to find now – only by mail order.  And several nursery-biz friends all agreed – the days of selling porcelainberry is long gone.

Ready for Roundup? 

Of course, recommended eradication methods are listed, starting with the "manual" method (though it includes cutting and using synthetic herbicide), then "chemical".

For vines too large to pull out, cut them
near the ground and either treat cut stems with systemic herbicide or
repeat cutting of regrowth as needed.

Chemical control in combination with manual and mechanical methods is effective and likely to be necessary for large infestations. The systemic herbicides triclopyr (e.g., Garlon® 3A and Garlon 4) and glyphosate (e.g., Roundup® and Rodeo®) have been used successfully by many practitioners.

Now, I'm a follower of IPM myself and understand that sometimes
herbicides are the best solution, but Roundup is a controversial product with lots of highly respected opponents, and I'd like to see this authoritative website mention that.  They could just link to sources both pro and con on the issue, and to evidence-based writers like the Garden Professors.  In all their public info about invasive plants there's a great opportunity for the Park Service to clear up some of the misunderstanding about herbicides. 

Look Who Loves Porcelainberry!

What can hardly be denied is that this particular plant is, without a doubt, one of the most destructive plants in North America.  And not just for parks.  In the garden, this Supervine can smother whole shrubs and even dogwoods in a single season.  Bad, bad garden plant!! 

YET, here's eHow recommending the stuff, and Ohio State seems fine with it!!!  And Martha Stewart says it has attractive fruit and fall foliage, and recommends these garden uses: "Climbing, ground cover, and naturalizing."

I don't get it. 

Posted by on August 16, 2010 at 3:43 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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28 Responses to “Informational Screw-ups over Porcelainberry”

  1. Eliz says:

    Once again, it’s all local. We grow this in Buffalo. Though it can be vigorous, it’s not always even that. I have a plant–it’s still sold in nurseries here–that for two years I have been trying to train to grow over a side arbor/trellis. It’s still only halfway up.

    It does better in full sun, I believe, but is still quite manageable in the gardens I have seen. You walked through many a Bflo garden that had it when you were here in July, Susan.

  2. susan harris says:

    Eliz, that’s so interesting! So the authorities on invasive plants should say that, too. Overgeneralizating about plants confuses as much as it teaches.

  3. Graham Rice says:

    Eliz… You’re absolutely right. There’s not a single plant that’s invasive everywhere.

    We’re constantly being told we shouldn’t plant buddleias, for example, cos they’re such dangerous invasives. Here in PA in zone 5B, buddleias often fail to survive the winter and in ten years have never been known to produce a single seedling. Not exactly a problem.

  4. Eliz says:

    I am so sick of these sweeping blanket calls to ban certain plants. It would outlaw many of the only plants I can get to grow in difficult conditions.

    OMG, Graham, banning buddleias? Now I have heard everything. They will have to tear my my Black Knight buddleia away from my cold, dead hands.

  5. It’s not that it’s necessarily invasive in our yards, where we almost unconsciously keep it in check, it’s that the birds that love the berries, fly away on their mini migrations, deposit seeds in new locations, and create new unchecked plants that are much closer to an area more conducive to its unchecked growth. The cycle then begins again. We live in a world much bigger than our imagined boundaries.

  6. commonweeder says:

    Here in Massachusetts buddleias aren’t invasive either. I was stunned when I saw them on the invasive list.

  7. I have a variegated porcelain berry vine and, after five years, has barely hit 8′ tall. Never knew it was an invasive. Bought it at a nursery. Zone 5/6 winters keep many plants southerners think of as invasives in check.

  8. naomi says:

    Friends had kudzu covering their back area at the end of townhouse row. They cut it back to within two feet of where the root emerged from the ground, filled empty cans with Roundup, and stuck the ends in. They had to refill the cans a few times, but they never had kudzu again, unlike their neighbors. I don’t use chemicals in my yard (and boy, is it tempting in NOLA), but sometimes monsters require super kill.

  9. Town Mouse says:

    Oh let’s be fair. Many states have a lot of information about which plants are invasive for that state, for example the California Invasive Plant Council (http://www.cal-ipc.org/landscaping/dpp/) for California.

    That makes it even more upsetting that nurseries and garden centers still sell the stuff! Please, stop it already. State governments spend small fortunes on eradication.

    As for Martha Stewart — well, no comment…

  10. How timely this posting comes from Garden Rant! I am at a Writers Conference on Cape Cod in Centerville which is a beautiful area, with a stunning beach that I walked on early this morning. On the property where the attendees stay many shrubs and trees are covered in a vine that is killing them. The vine looks like Porcelainberry, with the long run of vine that reaches many feet and the pocket of berries that look so nice. To me it must be Porcelainberry, though I am having a hard time having anyone here id it for me. Does anyone else on the Cape have this vine killing trees and shrubs?

  11. I agree with frank@nyc.

    Lots of nurseries around here still sell the different named (and supposedly sterile) cultivars of purple loosestrife, even though it is now known that they can cross with the species and have “babies” that add to the choking out of native vegetation. I see infestations daily in the parks and roadsides that I drive through… and have to grit my teeth when I hear people say, “Oh, well, I don’t have and/many babies in my yard, so it must not be that bad!”

    So, yeah. Don’t use Ohio as a poster child for good invasive/aggressive/thuggish plant management.

  12. rainymountain says:

    I agree ‘invasives’ are area specific mainly because of climate. Also I am not sure how far birds actually scatter seed through shitting, my observations are that birds eat and shit locally even when on migration. So the seeds of a plant invasive in the southern States are not going to make it when eaten in the North. Blanket statements need to be qualified by locale, otherwise people are going to ignore them.

  13. Layanee says:

    Not invasive in my northwestern RI garden. In fact, never has fruits at all. However, forty miles to the coast, it is rampant. Location, location, location.

  14. anne says:

    Maybe some “garden guerillas” could take some buddleia and porcelainberry starts and tuck them into the HOA neighborhood yards late at night….
    This is a timely post, as my husband and I were just marvelling at what a great wildlife host our buddleia is. It’s a bee and hummingbird magnet when in bloom, smells great and then the seeds feed various birds. I haven’t seen evidence in my area that it is spreading into wild areas (of which we have plenty), but I would feel badly if it did, like the Scotch Broom has.

  15. Here in Florida, the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (http://www.fleppc.org/), a non-profit group, maintains the agreed-upon lists of the most invasive plants. There are two lists–List I: the most invasive plants and list II: the plants with potential to be invasive. The lists are updated each year and indicate which part of the state (south, central, or north) that the plants have been a problem.

    Frank is right that just because a plant is aggressive in your yard doesn’t make it invasive and visa versa. It’s the birds or wind spreading the seeds or spores into natural areas that cause the problem.

  16. lisab says:

    I have recently seen Knock-Out roses growing in our forest preserves. It was shocking and beautiful at the same time. They actually looked better there than in most home landscapes. I don’t know the answer to the invasive debate. Hopefully, level-headed, non chemical solutions will emerge.

  17. meemsnyc says:

    I hate invasive plants unless they are edible. If not, must be pulled.

  18. Ray Eckhart says:

    From my experience, the best site out there for information on invasives, is the one sponsored by the University of Georgia, with CREES, APHIS, and the Forest Service of USDA as supporters. Here is their web site:

    http://www.invasive.org/

    One of your links goes to a page from that web site. For the Mid-Atlantic Region, these two booklets, free and downloadable, are what PA Master Gardeners in the Southeast Region use to teach about this subject in our area.

    http://www.invasive.org/eastern/midatlantic/

    http://hortweeds.tennessee.edu/webapp/weedguide/allpages.pdf

    Full publications list here:

    http://www.invasive.org/library/index.cfm

    The Garden Professors have started a running series(two so far – horsetail and privet) about plants they find in nurseries, that probably shouldn’t be there when there are much better alternatives available.

    It’s also not such a black and white issue that a single authorative entity can have the last word. A new book out,“Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast”
    defends some of the worst offending, invasive plants like Ailanthus and garlic mustard growing in disturbed urban areas as “spontaneaous species.” WaPo review here:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/13/AR2010061304822.html

    So, don’t feel like you’re alone, Susan, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

  19. John says:

    Part of the problem is that people that we assume are “experts” often aren’t. A lot of the those lists get compiled by people that shouldn’t even be involved. A lot of the information just gets repeated over and over without anyone checking to see if it’s true.

    When I hear someone talking authoritatively about such-n-such plant being “sterile” and therefore not a problem for the environment – I ask if it produces viable pollen. If it does, then it is still part of the problem because it can contribute pollen to feral plants and strengthen the invasive population. Kinda like when ‘sterile’ Bradford Pears were promoted but now we have all the hybrid/mutant pears popping up on the roadsides. No, they aren’t bradfords but their hybrid vigor comes from being half bradford or any other form of pear.

    And not to sound like the Troll but you can’t complain about invasive plants on one hand and whine about the plight of honeybees on the other when European Honeybees are not native to the US either and they cause problems (maybe not big problems but they don’t belong in our woods).

    Of course the whole rant seems pointless when its a bunch of non-native humans complaining about non-native plants and animals.

  20. Laura Bell says:

    Have never seen it naturalized ( or invading, take your pick) here, likely because our growing conditions don’t encourage it. But I did see it in one of the sections of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, most likely the Asian garden. It was beautiful, indeed, and I immediately wanted to find a spot for it in my own garden. This is a reminder that I should check the invasive possibilities of a plant before considering it as an addition to my own space.

  21. Dawn says:

    Here in New Zealand we are having a similar problem with plants once popular at garden centers now being categorized as pests. They’re usually not a pest throughout the entire country but they still get banned everywhere.

    We have beautiful native bush and I certainly don’t want any rambunctious vine taking over but the plant police go crazy sometimes.

    I think there has to be a happy medium.

    And yes, RoundUp is controversial here too!

  22. Carolyn Cates Wylie says:

    I agree with John.

  23. Jean Emery says:

    Susan, did you plant yours, or did it just appear in your yard? I’m growing it, with a slightly guilty conscience, here in Schenectady. Got it last year at my local independent garden center, have seen it at the chains too although not every year. Such a gorgeous, lusty vine — had to be dug up at the nursery because the roots had grown out of the pot way into the ground. And ampelopsis has so many literary associations.

    I’m several miles away from any wild areas…

  24. Tibs says:

    our most popular earthworm is not native either, brought over by european settles as eggs on agricultural equipment. some say they are destroying our forests

  25. As always, a fascinating discussion, with good points all around. I have a variegated porcelainberry which has never gotten more than about three feet long in any given year, dies back to the ground, and doesn’t fruit.

    The thing about so-called invasives or introduced plants is that they aren’t all evil. Take the lowly, reviled alders (both native and introduced species) as an example. They are a non-legume species that is able to fix nitrogen, providing nutrients to soil, AND they filter impurities such as pesticides from groundwater, are a good pioneer species…among their other attributes. Sure, they’re not desireable in cropland or a pasture, but now there’s research into using them as a source of biomass for fuel purposes, creating alder plantations. They’re quick growing and tolerant of pretty much any growing condition.

    Since there’s just been a big bruhahah over giant hogweed here in Nova Scotia–a bit of a tempest in a teapot during a slow news cycle, considering that the plant has been here for a century at least–it’s had me thinking about subjects like this quite a bit. There’s a lot of mis-information out there, particularly on the internet where there are garbage ‘gardening’ sites popping up seemingly daily, spewing poorly written and inaccurate information on all kinds of topics. I don’t know that there’s a cure for that other than to do our own research with care, of course.

  26. Linda says:

    Well, I’ll weigh in on the “invasive” side. My next-door neighbors in Washington DC are cultivating a very successful weed farm. Porceilan berry floated in a couple of years ago, is now smothering their garden, and is well on its way to smothering mine (as well as large swaths of nearby Rock Creek Park). I have had to hire people to come and get it out of my trees, I can’t keep up with the vile stuff.

  27. susan harris says:

    To answer the question about where mine comes from, porcelainberry just blows into my garden and proceeds to take over. Also, it’s the more vigorous solid green, the species, not the variegated type. Variegated versions of most plants seem to be less vigorous.

  28. Porcelain berry arrives in my yard via bird plops. They do love it. I yank it as soon as I see it growing even though in fall it is lovely.
    I did want to echo others here who said it is all about LOCAL. A nation-wide database of “invasives” is useless without the addition of a map showing where the plant is invasively behaving badly.

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