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 Chilly Paddle Among The Seals Off Fishers Island

"What did you say the water temperature is?" my buddy Steve Kurczy called out. "Thirty-eight degrees!" "And how long …" He didn’t have to finish the question.

Death In The Antarctic: Adventurers Who Live On The Edge Sometimes Topple Off

Virtually all outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, regard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1915 as history’s most extraordinary survival tale, in which he and his entire crew managed to make it...

Death In Antarctica: Adventurers Who Live On The Edge Sometimes Topple Off

Virtually all outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, regard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1915 as history’s most extraordinary survival tale, in which he and his entire crew managed to make it...

Finally, Some Cross-Country Skiing

After emerging on cross-country skis from protective evergreens into an open field the other day, I pulled on a fleece balaclava as an icy gust whipped across frozen ground and a giant, dark shadow advanced with the lowering sun.

Touching The Top Of The Bottom Of The Planet: Mystic Climber Scales Antarctica’s Tallest Mountain

Experienced mountaineers realize that reaching the peak isn’t the most important goal of any climb. The fact is, it doesn’t count unless you get back down.

Nuts About Acorns

By now I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have on my regular rambles through the woods, that we’re up to our — er, elbows — in acorns.

A Year Of Fun: It All Begins With The New Year’s Day Run-Swim

First of all, it doesn’t hurt that much. Really.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ... (And Don’t Stick Your Foot Into A Bear Cave)

I know that a month from now, when I could very well be digging out of my driveway just as I was in the accompanying photo taken last winter, I may have to eat these words, but ... Come on! Where’s all the snow?!

An Impromptu Kayak Circumnavigation of Fishers Island in December: Glad I Missed the ‘Fun’ Part

You know those adventures you could have experienced but had to pass up for one reason or another, and then when you later ask how it went your friends gush, "Oh, man, it was awesome! Best time of our life! You shoulda been...

Celebrating Second-place Slackers: A Quiz

Back when my son Tom and I were tagging all 67 of the 4,000-plus-foot mountains in New England, a perverse idea crossed my mind: What if we stopped inches short of each peak and then climbed back down?

With The Fagin Fitness Ankle Bracelet or Fagin Fitness Implant, You WILL Get In Shape!

The problem with Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Withings Pulse, Microsoft Band and other electronic fitness trackers is that, like so many old-school aids designed to get people off their butts and into shape (workout charts, personal trainers,...

Beware The Deadly Deer

Every season presents the potential for paradise or peril.

Autumn Berries: A Succulent Reward During A Long Bike Ride

While biking through the hills and along the shore of Mystic and Stonington the other day with my friend Spyros "Spy" Barres and son Tom, I began to regret that I neglected to bring along a water bottle.

The Rites – And Wrongs – Of Autumn

It’s finally happened: I’ve grown so accustomed to the roar of the leaf blower that I now longer recoil and curse at the first sonic blast of fall, but simply shake my head and sigh.