This week, the lovely but highly invasive porcelain berry takes center stage at the Ames Free Library. Look for its grape-like leaves and vines and its attractive multi-colored fruit. The speckled berries change color as they ripen, passing through shades of green, pink, purple, and blue. This species won’t be difficult to locate as it has spread extensively throughout the unmowed sections of the library’s campus.
Imported from Asia in the 1870s, this ornamental vine has proved problematic for native species in the U.S. Adaptable and vigorous, porcelain berry outcompetes natives by shading them out, especially in moist locations with some sun. Like many invasive species, it thrives in areas that have experienced disturbance: forest edges, roadsides, and steam banks, to name a few. Its seeds are dispersed by both birds and water and, according to A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts, it has a high germination rate. In response to these issues, Massachusetts has prohibited the importation, propagation, and sale of porcelain berry since 2006.
In case you were wondering, those pretty berries are neither poisonous nor tasty. A columnist for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden describes them as “tending toward the winning combination of slimy and bland.”