EPISODE 3 - BITTERSWEET VINES

"The pockets of woods that are tucked away in these urban and suburban areas get just ignored" 

Chara Dow and her father David Dow are woodworkers based in Rochester, NY. I got to follow them for a day as they harvested invasive oriental bittersweet vines that are choking out and killing trees in their local park. They don't just cut down vines but have also found a use for this malleable material in their rustic furniture and woodcrafts. Brought over as an ornamental, Oriental Bittersweet has escaped into the wild and decimates these urban woods.

"It will climb the tree until it kills it"

You don't need to live in the woods to take care of the forest, even in a big city like Rochester. We walked by tree after tree that was being choked out by these incredible vines. Their ability to not just use the tree as a trellis but also jump to other trees once in the canopy is impressive and terrifying. Once they claim the canopy the tree can't receive any sunlight and will die. 

 

"If I can make stuff that I love it all brings attention to it and I'm using materials that need to be taken out." 

Removing invasives vines and turning them into functional art is a creative form of forest stewardship. David Dow uses them for planter baskets that he sells by the hundreds at craft fairs during the holidays. Chara uses them in her rustic furniture as the wild shapes take the place of what would be straight legs and supports in tables and chairs. 

"When I work with these vines I'm forced to accept the shape in which they have grown".

These amazing urban elves have proved to me that you don't need to live in the woods to be a forest steward, eaven in a big city like Rochester. Often the most neglected forests in most need of your help are tucked away in our suburban and urban sprawls. This is where the most ornamental plants that have escaped lawns tend to thrive and where the least conservation happens. These magnificent vines are a blessing and a curse for wood crafters who truly see them for what they are...BITTERSWEET!