American Bittersweet Vine: Tips For Growing Bittersweet Plants


Bittersweet vines are North American native plants that thrive throughout most of the United States. In the wild, you can find it growing on the edges of glades, on rocky slopes, in woodland areas and in thickets. It often winds itself around trees and covers low-growing shrubs. In the home landscape, you can try growing bittersweet along a fence or other support structure.

What is American Bittersweet Vine?

American bittersweet is a vigorous deciduous, perennial vine that grows 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m.) tall. It is native to central and eastern North America. They produce yellowish-green flowers that bloom in spring, but the flowers are plain and uninteresting compared to the berries that follow. As the flowers fade, orange-yellow capsules appear.

In late fall and winter, the capsules open at the ends to display the bright red berries inside. The berries remain on the plant well into winter, brightening winter landscapes and attracting birds and other wildlife. The berries are poisonous to humans if eaten, however, so practice caution when planting around homes with small children.

Growing Bittersweet Vines

In very cold climates, make sure you plant American bittersweet vine (Celastrus scandens) rather than Chinese bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). American bittersweet vine is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3b through 8, while Chinese bittersweet suffers frost damage and may die to the ground in USDA zones 3 and 4. It is hardy in zones 5 to 8.

When growing bittersweet for the attractive berries, you’ll need both a male and female plant. The female plants produce the berries, but only if there is a male plant nearby to fertilize the flowers.

American bittersweet vine grows quickly, covering trellises, arbors, fences and walls. Use it to cover unsightly features in the home landscape. When used as a ground cover, it will hide rock piles and tree stumps. The vine will climb trees readily, but limit the tree climbing activity to mature trees only. The vigorous vines can damage young trees.

American Bittersweet Plant Care

American bittersweet thrives in sunny locations and in almost any soil. Water these bittersweet vines by soaking the surrounding soil during dry spells.

Bittersweet vine doesn’t usually need fertilization, but if it appears to get off to a slow start, it may benefit from a small dose of general purpose fertilizer. Vines that receive too much fertilizer don’t flower or fruit well.

Prune the vines in late winter or early spring to remove dead shoots and control excess growth.

Note: American bittersweet and other bittersweet varieties are known to be aggressive growers and are, in many areas, considered noxious weeds. Make sure to check whether or not it is advisable to grow this plant in your area beforehand, and take necessary precautions on its control if currently growing the plant.


How to Prune a Bittersweet Vine

Adding a touch of seasonal color to autumn crafts, decorations and floral arrangements, American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is a vigorous climbing vine that can reach 25 feet in length. It is rather insignificant in the landscape most of the year. In autumn, yellowish-orange fruit capsules split open to reveal bright orange berries inside. The berries remain on the vines even after the yellow fall foliage drops off. Lengths of vine with the berries still attached, or “sprigs,” are incorporated into seasonal décor.

Prune bittersweet annually in early spring before the leaves have fully opened. Remove any dead or diseased vines or branches. Cut them back into healthy or live wood.

  • Adding a touch of seasonal color to autumn crafts, decorations and floral arrangements, American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is a vigorous climbing vine that can reach 25 feet in length.
  • Prune bittersweet annually in early spring before the leaves have fully opened.

Remove old shoots that have become unproductive and are crowding out newer, more vigorous branches. Cut them out near the base of the bittersweet vine.

Select enough of the larger branches to outline the supporting structure of the bittersweet vine and remove all others. This will encourage the vine to produce new growth during the current year, on which berries will grow the following year.

Cut back shoots, or “spurs,” and side branches growing out from the larger branches selected in Step 3. These side branches are those that grew the previous summer and will produce flowers and berries during the current year. Make the side shoots about 12 to 18 inches long.

  • Remove old shoots that have become unproductive and are crowding out newer, more vigorous branches.
  • These side branches are those that grew the previous summer and will produce flowers and berries during the current year.

Description & Overview

American Bittersweet is a Wisconsin native climbing vine with colorful clusters of orange fruit capsules that open to reveal red seeds. Celastrus scandens is dioecious, meaning you need a male and a female plant to get fruiting. This is a multi-season vine, offering fragrant white flowers in spring, dense foliage in summer, with fall color and a fruit display in autumn.

Core Characteristics

Salable #1 container American Bittersweet. Pictures taken late July.

Suggested Uses:

It’s a great option for woodland gardens and naturalized areas. As a fast-growing vine, it quickly covers fences, arbors, trellises, posts, walls, or other structures in the landscape. It can also be used as a groundcover to camouflage rock piles or old tree stumps.

It is a prized plant by florists as a cut plant for its orange berries or branches in dried arrangements.

Wildlife Value:

Although reported to be poisonous to humans (all mammals), the fruit is attractive and desirable for all birds in fall and winter.

Maintenance Tips:

Prune off any dead or diseased vines in the fall all the way back to healthy wood. Old shoots that have not produced berries or are crowding out newer growth can be pruned off as well. Do not remove more than 20% of the plant in a season. Pruning can also be done in late winter while the plant is still dormant to encourage lush new growth.

Pests/Problems:

American Bittersweet has no serious insect or disease problems.

Avoid growing vines up small trees. This can rapidly girdle trunks and branches, leading to the death of the tree. American Bittersweet suckers quickly to form large colonies. Euonymus scale and two-marked treehoppers may cause significant damage in some areas.

Leaf Lore:

American bittersweet grows over the eastern two-thirds of the US (except for Florida), on the western edge of the range from Texas and Oklahoma to Wyoming and Montana, and across southeastern Canada from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick. All parts of this plant have been reported to be poisonous, but the inner bark has been used by Native American tribes as an emergency food source.

Companion Plants:

Hydrangea, Chinese Lantern, Ornamental Grass. Hydrangeas have similar foliage but produce large flowers that can compliment berry clusters. Chinese Lantern Plants (which we do not sell) have a similar look and mature at the same time (at the end of the growing season – early fall) if you want consistency from a companion plant. Grasses will help fill in and cover the bottom of the vine as it matures upward.


American Bittersweet

Celastraceae (staff trees, staff vines, bittersweets)

American bittersweet is a native, twining woody vine that climbs into trees to heights of 20 feet or, more commonly, sprawls on bushes or fences. Its clusters of orange fruits split into sections to reveal seeds covered with a bright red, fleshy coating.

Leaves are alternate, simple, with the blade 2–4 inches long, 1–2 inches wide, egg-shaped to oval to lance-shaped, tip pointed, the base ending at a sharp angle or rounded, the margin entire or with small, finely pointed teeth the upper surface is dark yellowish green, smooth the lower surface is paler, smooth the leaf stalk is about ½ inch long, smooth.

Stems are spreading to twining, green to gray or brown tendrils absent.

Bark is light brown, smooth, with prominent pores the bark of old stems peels into thin flakes and small sheets the wood is soft, porous, white.

Flowers May–June, in clusters of numerous flowers at the end of twigs male and female flowers are in separate clusters plants usually with mostly female or male flowers only.

  • The male flowers are in clusters about 2 inches long the flower stalks are about 1 inch long flowers are small, inconspicuous, greenish white to yellow petals 5 stamens 5, shorter than the petals.
  • The female flowers are in clusters 1–1½ inches long the flower stalks are 1¼–2 inches long flowers are small, 5–25, greenish white to yellow petals 5 stamens 5, poorly developed.

Fruits in July–October, in hanging clusters 2½–4 inches long fruits 6–20, globe-shaped, about ¼ inch across, fruit orange to yellow, leathery, splitting into 3 sections, each section with 1 or 2 globe-shaped seeds seeds covered with a bright red, fleshy coating, persistent and showy in autumn seeds white at first, then cream-colored and drying to brown, oval, about ¼ inch long.

Similar species: Round-leaved bittersweet, or Asiatic or oriental bittersweet (C. orbiculatus), is closely related but is native to Asia and can aggressively escape from cultivation. It is fast becoming a serious weed in the eastern United States. Its fruits are not as showy as our native American bittersweet prior to splitting open, the fruits are orange-yellow to orange (not orange to red) and are single or in smaller clusters. Its leaves are fairly circular (about as wide as they are long) or are broadest above (not below) the middle. Leaf margins have small, rounded (not finely pointed) teeth. Flower/fruits are axillary (arising along the stems in the leaf axils), in clusters of 2–4.

Other plants in the same family (sharing the same basic fruit structure) include our native eastern wahoo, strawberry bush, and running strawberry bush, and the nonnative invasive burning bush (winged euonymus) and wintercreeper.


Description & Overview

Autumn Revolution is a fast-growing vine well-known for its fall color and orange fruit. It has many of the same qualities as the native American Bittersweet, except it’s monoecious meaning you don’t need a separate male and female plant for fruiting. You need only one plant to have the double-sized fruit with Autumn Revolution™. And like its native parent, it’s a multi-season vine, offering fragrant white flowers in spring, dense foliage in summer, with fall color and a fruit display in autumn.

Autumn Revolution Details

Salable #5 Container. Pictures taken late July.

Suggested Uses:

It’s a great option for woodland gardens and naturalized areas. As a fast-growing vine, it quickly covers fences, arbors, trellises, posts, walls, or other structures in the landscape. It can also be used as a groundcover to camouflage rock piles or old tree stumps.

It is a prized plant by florists as a cut plant for its orange berries or branches in dried arrangements.

Wildlife Value:

This cultivar boasts large, bright orange berries that split open to reveal fleshy, bright red seeds. These berries are poisonous to humans but are a desirable fall and winter food source for birds. The thick branches provide shelter and nesting materials.

Maintenance Tips:

Prune in the fall. Autumn Revolution™ is an extremely low maintenance, drought tolerant vine that is both salt and pollution tolerant as well. Prune off any dead or diseased vines in the fall all the way back to healthy wood. Old shoots that have not produced berries or are crowding out newer growth can be pruned off as well. Do not remove more than 20% of the plant in a season. Pruning can also be done in late winter while the plant is still dormant to encourage lush new growth.

Pests/Problems:

American Bittersweet has no serious insect or disease problems.

Avoid growing vines up small trees. This can rapidly girdle trunks and branches, leading to the death of the tree. American Bittersweet suckers quickly to form large colonies. Euonymus scale and two-marked treehoppers may cause significant damage in some areas.

Leaf Lore:

Autumn Revolution™ American Bittersweet is part of the the First Editions® Collection.

The Latin name ‘scando’ means “to climb,” referring the nature of the vine. Between the bright orange berries and golden fall color, this vine is sure to add a stunning fall accent to any yard. Old wood can be pruned off and formed into wreaths for winter-long indoor interest. These vines are extremely flexible and can be shaped as needed and are ideal for dried arrangements. However, do not ingest the berries as they are toxic to humans.

Companion Plants:

Hydrangea, Chinese Lantern, Ornamental Grass. Hydrangeas have similar foliage but produce large flowers that can compliment berry clusters. Chinese Lantern Plants (which we do not sell) have a similar look and mature at the same time (at the end of the growing season – early fall) if you want consistency from a companion plant. Grasses will help fill in and cover the bottom of the vine as it matures upward.

AUTUMN REVOLUTION™ AMERICAN BITTERSWEET BENCHCARD


American Bittersweet

American bittersweet, a climbing shrub, is native to North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is an extremely rampant grower and care should be taken not to let it escape into desirable trees or shrubs.

: This woody shrub climbs by twining around its support and is so efficient that it frequently strangles the trees it grows on. It can grow to whatever height its host attains. The stems are woody. Its deep green, glossy leaves are ovate and pointed, turning yellow before dropping in the fall. The male and female flowers, inconspicuous, appear on separate plants. If pollinated, female flowers bear striking orange berries in the fall, lasting through much of the winter.

: This plant will thrive hi nearly any soil that is not constantly wet. It requires full sun or partial shade to get started. Make sure to plant at least one male per group of three females to ensure pollination. Prune severely in early spring to stimulate flowering and also cut off unwanted suckers.

: American bittersweet is often used to cover unsightly fences and rock piles. It can be trained up arbors, trellises, and even mature trees, but should never be allowed to climb young trees or shrubs because the vine's twisting woody stems can cut off their sap as they grow. The seeds, although poisonous to humans, seem to do no harm to the birds that eat them in winter. The fruit-bearing branches are often harvested for dried winter decorations.

American bittersweet related species: The Loesener bittersweet (Celastrus Loeseneri or, more correctly, C. Rosthornianus) is similar, but less hardy and not as attractive. Asian bittersweet (C. Orbiculatus) is an invasive weed and should not be planted.


Watch the video: How to identify oriental bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus


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