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

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.

Rocks In Their Heads Again: Another Bunch Of Idiots Knock Over An Ancient Stone Formation, This Time In Oregon

"Every now and again people do something so monumentally destructive, dimwitted and dishonorable it belongs in a class of disgracefulness normally reserved for trophy hunters ... It’s almost as if they wake up one morning and say to...

Who Needs Bug Zappers When Dragonflies Are On The Prowl?

Citronella candles, bug zappers, insecticides – people go to elaborate and often poisonous lengths to combat mosquitoes, deer flies and other nettlesome insects as we move into the steamy weeks of late summer, but I’ve been letting...

Life's A Beach: Eavesdropping In The Sand

"Sweetie, do you know what that is?" No response. "Look at that bird! You know what they call it?" Still no response. "It’s a seagull!"

Surf’s Up! Hanging Ten In A Kayak

All right, technically my buddy Spyros "Spy" Barres and I weren’t hanging 10 toes off the end off boards while riding waves at Westerly’s Fenway Beach on Thursday, but we were surfing.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

All of us who have ventured atop mountains, out to sea, or simply into a nearby park have occasionally faced Mother Nature’s wrath – a sudden thunderstorm, pounding blizzard, gale-force winds, locusts …

Loading Your Backpack: Less Is (Usually) More

Some years ago, preparing to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness – the final stretch of the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I stuffed my backpack with what I initially considered to be the absolute bare minimum for a week in...

Sun, Sun, Sun Here It Comes (Enough Already!)

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was one of the year’s high holy days, right up there with Halloween and the last day of school, because that was when my parents took my sister and me to the beach for the annual fireworks...

How To Build An Adirondack Chair Out Of Skis In 14,387 Easy Steps

Many people I know share my passion for outdoor recreation but I also have a little secret: Between rounds of kayaking, hiking, gardening, wood-splitting and other activities I also savor the simple act of lounging quietly on a sunny day in a...

A Comedy – And Nearly A Tragedy – Of Errors On Maine's Saddleback Mountain: In The Age Of Cellphones, A Failure To Communicate

A refreshing breeze cooled me despite a blazing late-afternoon sun as I scrambled up the final rocky slope to the 4,121-foot summit of Maine’s Saddleback Mountain earlier this week, but I paused for only a moment to gaze at the glorious,...

Gardening Is Simple! Just Stick Stuff In The Ground And Voila! A Cornucopia Of Fresh Veggies! (Right)

Anyone who has ever attempted to grow vegetables soon realizes it is a true labor of love, with particular emphasis on the labor.