How this invasive vine species is threatening P.E.I. trees

·3 min read
This invasive species of vine wraps around trees and cuts off the flow of nutrients. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)
This invasive species of vine wraps around trees and cuts off the flow of nutrients. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)

The Prince Edward Island Invasive Species Council wants Islanders to keep an eye out for an invasive plant that has started to take over patches of forest in eastern P.E.I.

The vine is known as Oriental bittersweet. It originated from Asia and was brought to North America in the 1800s.

Simon Wilmot, co-ordinator at the council, said the vine can cause a lot of damage to the Island's native ecosystems. It has been spotted in various locations across the Island, but she said it has established a patch in Georgetown that is threatening the forest near the Confederation Trail.

"It winds around the tree and it gets bigger each year," Wilmot explained of why the vine is problematic. "It constricts on the tree and as it does so, it cuts off the nutrient flow."

The plant grows upward, wrapping around tree trunks all the way to the top of their canopies. The vine and its leaves block the sunlight and weaken trees, then all it takes is a strong wind or accumulation of snow and the treetops can snap off.

"Left alone and unmanaged, it will eventually smother out all of the native species, which is terrible for the local wildlife and particularly the species at risk on P.E.I.," Wilmot said.

'Very detrimental to the forest'

The Invasive Species Council is working to keep the plant from spreading by offering training sessions to conservation groups across P.E.I. including the Southeast Environmental Association.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Jackie Bourgeois, executive director of the association, said her group cleared away some of the plant this summer near the Confederation Trail.

"It was actually the invasive species council that came to us and told us about this mess," she said.

Bourgeois said seeing the plant for the first time was "jaw dropping."

"You can see it's very detrimental to the forest," she said. "It is a concern for us because this is an aggressive invasive species."

What to do if you spot the vine

Wilmot said removing the vine can be a multi-year process, but "can be successful."

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

If Islanders spot the vine climbing up trees on their property, Wilmot's advice is to cut the vines and clear away what's at the bottom. The remaining parts of the vine will die and eventually fall off.

Wilmot said not to pull on the vines as that could cause branches to snap.

After cutting the vines, Wilmot said to put a tarp on the ground to smother where it was growing to make sure it doesn't come back. Any sprouts that shoot out can then be pulled out in the spring.

Finally, Wilmot said Islanders should report any sightings of the plant to the Invasive Species Council.

In a statement to CBC News, P.E.I.'s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said the Confederation Trail supervisors and crews attended one of the council's training sessions on managing the vine, and that staff have already removed about 20 metres of the invasive plant.

The government plans to spend some time every year removing the vine to limit its growth.

Along with the Confederation Trail maintenance team, Wilmot said the Invasive Species Council has trained four watershed groups and a youth group on how to deal with the vine. He said this training is open to any local conservation group that wants it.

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