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Killer Vines!

Case Study: Oriental Bittersweet
Celastrus Orbiculatus can grow up to twelve feet a year, reaching heights of 66 feet and strangling trees and shrubs in its path.   

Globalism, with its quick-action mix-and-match addition and deletion of natural organisms, has trumped the notion of incremental Darwinism. Ecosystems that took thousands of years to develop are being radically altered almost overnight. It makes you wonder whether the process is playing havoc with evolution or whether it is simply more evolution, just of the man-made variety, which brings to mind the specter of a kind of bioterrorism, in which the next Tsarnaev brothers may appear to be nothing more than a cabal of sweet-faced garden-club members like those in The Manchurian Candidate. Since the breeze riffling the kudzu looks beautiful from a whizzing car, it is only relatively recently that invasive plants have come to be perceived as a problem. With invader species (including animals) costing an estimated $167 billion a year nationally, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has set up a high-tech mapping system to locate and control invasives. Beyond this is the so-called invasivore movement, which counts Japanese knotweed as nothing more than the next forager/foodie darling owing to its high content of resveratrol, which many believe to be beneficial in the cure of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The world is full of unintended consequences,” said Thatcher Drew, as he pointed out a green and growing mass of killer vines in a swatch of woods behind an SRO motel near the intersection of the Cross-County and Saw Mill Parkways in Yonkers. They were all there, the deadly trifecta: the bittersweet, the multiflora, the porcelainberry. The stuff was all over roadsides, along the train tracks, beside construction sites, “the edges of where human beings had cut into the canopy, as if to mock us in our industry,” said Drew, a former documentary filmmaker and member of ­, one of a number of local groups that donate time to hacking away at the invaders, “holding the line.”

“Watch this,” said Drew, digging his loppers into a bittersweet vine that had wound its way up from the base of a sycamore all the way to the top, twenty feet or more. Drew wanted to show me how heavy the vines were, the way they weighed down tree branches. Once Drew managed to cut through the vine, the sap dripped out. It dripped for a long time, a lot of life force pooling onto the ground. “Well, at least that tree will be able to breathe, for a moment,” he said.

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