Finally, something good from bittersweet: Making a lamp from a vine-strangled sapling

The author made this floor lamp using the trunk of a maple sapling twisted by a bittersweet vine.

A silent but deadly killer lurks in the woods.

Anybody who spends time outdoors has seen Oriental bittersweet's anaconda-like vines coiled around trees, eventually choking them to death and dragging their carcasses to the ground. It's like a slow-motion horror movie.

Introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant some 150 years ago – in the fall it produces yellow, orange and red berries people evidently considered attractive – bittersweet is one of the most aggressive and destructive invasive plants in the East.

Over the years I've waged a ferocious battle with the vine and have managed to keep it from overtaking my domain – but I'm probably doomed. I know if I stopped hacking away at the tough, woody plant for one season the war would be lost.

I certainly could improve my chances of victory if I resorted to such herbicides as triclopyr, but the application of chemicals violates my own Geneva code, and so I employ such traditional weapons as lopping shears, a bow saw, ax and mattock.

I'm especially vigilant around the countless evergreens I've planted from seedlings.

Bittersweet is extraordinarily sneaky, and will send a barely visible tendril up a tender sapling. By the time you spot it and rip it out, the damage, sometimes fatal, has been done.

Birds spread bittersweet seeds, which are just now beginning to germinate. The plants also spread also through root suckering. I've ripped up root systems more than 20 feet long. Above the ground the vines can grow 4 inches thick and climb 100 feet and more to the crowns of mature trees, where their weight helps pull everything down in a tangled mess.

The roots also are unbelievably strong. I've swung from them like Tarzan, and had them snag trees I've tried to cut for firewood.

In fact, even after I cut off its roots one stubborn bittersweet vine continues to cling to a thick oak log suspended 15 in the air. This widowmaker has for years dangled like the Sword of Damocles directly over a trail that I often walk. Blizzards, hurricanes and windstorms haven't loosened the dead bittersweet's grip.

Some time ago I encountered a bittersweet vine that throttled a young maple tree, creating a swirling, indented pattern into the bark and cambium. I cut the sapling trunk, measuring about 6 feet long and 4 inches thick, and leaned it against a neighboring tree.

Then I forgot about it.

But earlier this spring while traipsing through the woods I tripped over that section of perfectly seasoned trunk, and had an inspiration: It would make the perfect floor lamp.

Loyal readers and viewers of a video on theday.com may recall a few weeks ago the oversized chairs I fabricated from tree stumps using a chain saw, chisel, angle grinder equipped with a saw-like disc and palm sander.

Using these same tools I removed the bark from the twisted maple, then drilled a hole for a wire, and also cut a 4-inch-thick, 18-inch wide disc of maple for a base.

After lag screwing the trunk to the base I ran a wire through it, installed a switch, plug and socket for a bulb. I also bought an old torchiere glass shade at a thrift store, as well as some spar varnish.

A few hours of sanding, drilling and wiring, and voila – a unique and rather attractive lamp, if I say so myself.

Now I'm on a mission: scrounge up more twisted branches and trunks. In just over an hour the other day I found half a dozen others, and I'm letting them season in the woodshed before converting them to lamps.

Having played around with stained glass a year ago and buying a few tools, I'm also designing a more elegant shade for the next lamp.

Don't get me wrong; I still loathe bittersweet and will never hesitate to cut it down. But I'm pleased to have found a use for the vine's victims, other than simply to burn them in my woodstove.

Now, if I could only devise similarly redeeming applications for poison ivy, green briar and knotweed …

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

A Short But Sweet Eagle-Watching Season On The Lower Connecticut River

The hummingbird hovers, sparrow flutters, tern dives, duck flaps frenetically, but in the avian world the eagle soars majestically, barely moving its enormous wings while wheeling effortlessly through the heavens.

A Grand Canyon Gondola Ride – What An Idea! How About A Tram Up Mount Everest?

I don’t know about you, but I was extraordinarily excited to hear about plans to build a gondola tram that would take visitors 1.6 miles to the floor of the Grand Canyon in 10 minutes – way faster and less strenuous than...

The Magic and Misadventures of Making Maple Syrup

The instant the whirring drill bit pulled free from the trunk of a maple tree behind our house the other morning a splendid stream of sap began oozing before I had a chance to pound a metal spile into the half-inch-wide hole.

A Tough Time For Deer, But Elephants Finally Catch A Break (Sort Of)

Traipsing on snowshoes the other day through, over and around waist-high drifts in the woods behind our house I crossed a veritable superhighway of deer tracks that meandered among the rhododendron, laurel, pine, spruce and fir, and...

Death in the White Mountains: Recklessness and The False Security of GPS, Cellphones and Locator Beacons

After being battered by 70 mph winds, blinded by whipping snow and nearly frozen in temperatures that plunged to 20 below zero and beyond, Kate Matrosova must have realized early on she had no hope of completing her solo climb of four of...

You Never Miss The Water Till The Well Runs Dry — Or The Pipes Freeze

After shoveling a path to the woodshed the other day for the 138th time this season (or so it seemed) and lugging what certainly felt like the 862nd load of logs to the house and the 243rd bucket of wood stove ashes to the distant pit,...

Hey! Wanna Ride? Detroit Distance Walker James Robertson Shouldn't Look A Gift Car In The Hood, But ...

You no doubt have heard about James Robertson, the 56-year-old Detroit man who for more than a decade walked 21 miles a day to and from his factory job because he couldn’t afford a car.

Blizzard Be Damned – A Great Day To Enjoy The Outdoors

With blizzard-force winds whipping great clouds of snow across the frozen lake and waist-high drifts piled above 2 feet of still-accumulating powder, the only question was: Snowshoes or cross-country skis?

Kill The North Stonington Mountain Lion! (And Other Phrases I Hope People Never Utter)

Every time there’s a report of a dangerous, predatory animal prowling local woods or waterways I fervently wish that two things don’t happen:

A ‘Frozen’ Moment: Don’t Let It Go

This week’s cold snap has spread a shimmering, silken coating over ponds and lakes throughout the region, creating some of the best conditions for skating in years, so you must get out now and enjoy it because who knows...

Hey, It’s Winter — Deal With It! Embrace The Cold, Snow And Ice

First of all, it’s way too soon to start whining about the cold. Let’s all agree that by March, if we’re still getting hammered by ferocious winds, driving snow and frigid temps, then a little complaining might be in...

Eagles, Seals, Swallows, Mountains, Rapids: You Can Never Have Too Much Fun

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that people, even — make that especially — hard-core adventurers/endurance athletes tend to set the bar way too high: bike across the country, qualify for the Hawaii...