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Have a Happy (Native Plant) Holiday Season!

Winterberry makes a lovely addition to a holiday wreath.

This time of year many of us decorate our homes or apartments with holiday cheer. Brightly colored lights, candles, winter gourds, wreaths – the variety is limited only by imagination. Our hands and hearts make our spaces warm and welcoming.

This season as many of us think about how we want to decorate, the Harpswell Invasive Plant Partnership (HIPP) would like to suggest making a special effort to use natives and not invasives in holiday decorations.

If this sounds odd, consider how many wreaths have been made over the years by the twining vines of Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). Not only do the vines create beautiful shapes as they twist and climb, but the berries with their red center and orange-yellow skins are attractive. For years wreaths made of Asiatic bittersweet appeared every holiday season at many stores and home-made runners graced mantle pieces and tables. And for years, once the season was over, the vines and their berries were tossed outside where the berries helped continue the spread of this invasive. At the time we simply didn’t know any better.

Now we do know better. We know that Asiatic bittersweet outcompetes our native plants. We know some birds like the berries and spread this aggressive vine throughout field and forest where, if left untouched, it will overtop trees and form a tangled mat of vines on the ground, ultimately strangling trees and shrubs and diminishing the number and variety of other plants.

The good news is there is an equally attractive alternative to bittersweet. Common Winterberry, (Ilex verticillata). This is a lovely native shrub with red berries that grows in many areas of Maine. Clipping a few branches to grace your table or mantle piece adds a cheerful holiday touch!

So as we prepare for this holiday season let our preparations include thoughtful choices when it comes to how we decorate. Using, for example, a few branches of winterberry instead of bittersweet benefits our landscape, town, wildlife and the plants that are native to our area.

And if you do choose to clip a few branches of winterberry, make sure you leave plenty for our feathered friends who depend upon it later in the winter!

December 2017