Martha Stewart didn’t get the memo.
On her Web site, the domestic diva highlights porcelain berry as a “no maintenance plant with attractive fruits” and suggests that gardeners “grow it as a ground cover by letting it sprawl or train it as a climbing vine.”
Don’t take this advice from Martha (or any tax tips either). I guess that we can’t blame her; she is not the only one that has suggested use of this attractive and highly invasive plant. After all, she might have been under lock and key when we fully realized the dangers of porcelain berry. Martha also likely has a staff of gardeners at her disposal to help her dispose of this major menace should it get out of hand.
Porcelain berry, though lovely to look at, is another invasive plant to avoid. With all of the bad plants I’ve written about lately, perhaps we should call this column weed of the week, instead of all outdoors. Whatever you call it, don’t call the garden center to request porcelain berry for your yard.
Hailing from northeast Asia, porcelain berry was first cultivated in the United States in the 1870s as a bedding and landscape plant. It is revered for its attractive berries, which can be green to bright blue or pale lilac to a deep purple.
Porcelain berry is in the grape family, closely resembling fox grapes. Differentiating the two is simple, just taking a closer look. The bark of porcelain berry has lenticels, those dots or slits on its bark for respiration, while grape does not. The inside of the stem, or pith, of porcelain berry is white, while grapes have brown piths. One similarity is that both plants have fruits that are edible, though porcelain berry is noted to be “not very palatable.”
Known as amur peppervine, creeper, and even wild grape, porcelain berry has many aliases; however, the only thing harder than getting rid of this plentiful vine, is uttering its scientific name. Ampelopsis brevipedunculata is a mouthful of Latin, if nothing else. Translated, its wordy name means vine-like with short peduncles (little feet), referring to the stalk that the fruits are attached.
A climber, porcelain berry uses its nonadhesive tendrils to clamber 20 feet or higher on the surface of trees, bushes or other substrates. It has been noticed recently at a few sites in Vineyard Haven, but luckily, we don’t yet have the problem of some other off-Island towns.
The city of Milford, Del., has waged war against this intruder. Of the 3,584 acres of land in Milford, around five per cent is solid porcelain berry. Citizens are mobilizing to fight their new, but unwelcome neighbor.
Our state is ahead of the curve in our efforts to limit a full-blown porcelain berry infestation. Since Jan. 1, 2003, the importation, propagation and sale of this species has been prohibited.
Which brings me back to our friend Martha; she should beware of peddling porcelain berry in our Massachusetts neighborhood. Even with the porcelain berry in her garden, I am sure that she is much happier in her mansion than she would be back in the other big house.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.