Porcelain Berries are too pretty to eat

Porcelain Berries

Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) was no doubt brought into this country from Asia as an ornamental plant, with little consideration for the ultimate consequences.  I can understand people wanting to plant them, as the berries are quite spectacular,  resembling speckled porcelain droplets of green, turquoise, purple, pink and white, with many tones in between.  A large cluster of berries may not have any two berries of the same color or shade.  These glistening orbs are set against a background of dark green leaves.  They can be truly exquisite.

Lilac and turquoise porcelain berries

Lilac and turquoise porcelain berries

During the past few years I have made a point of paying regular visits to the waterfront in Tallman Park(on the Hudson River, just north of the border with New Jersey.)  This is a place I’ve known for over 30 years, and being a naturalist, I have made mental notes of the plant life that has visited the area during that time.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I spotted a porcelain berry plant that I had only previously seen in the marshes at Cape May.  It was such a beautiful and exotic plant, that I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want it growing there.  But it was considered invasive, and therefore a nuisance to be “managed”.

Porcelain Berry Vine "Tree sculpture"

Porcelain Berry Vine “Tree sculpture”

On my own property at the first signs of the porcelain berry vine, I will eagerly pull it up, roots and all.  It is a voraciously greedy plant that spreads both above and under the ground, covering everything in its path, and choking out all other species, including the tallest of trees, until all that can be seen are the silhouettes of the dead skeletons supporting the green mass of foliage.

Over time I have watched the waters edge of the park transformed by these plants, that have now spread out into the phragmites marshes and are advancing up the hillside into the park.  I have often wondered why there was never that same urgency in this park as there has been in Cape May to eradicate the vine, before it was too late.  Alas, we have now gone beyond that point.

Having said that, I am bound to admit that there is an exotic beauty that come along with the transformation of the park, that has given this area a mystical beauty that it never possessed before.  Close up, one is greeted by the multiple colors of the berries and from a distance there is a sculptural magic to the grand displays of the vine cloaked landscape.

Porcelain Berries are closely related to grapes and are consequently edible.  For those of you who enjoy bland food with a slightly prickly aftertaste, they would make the ideal snack food, especially if you also enjoy a slimy texture.  However, since they are so uniquely interesting, they can be used as a colorful garnish, without fear of accidentally eating one or two.

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