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American Bittersweet Celastrus scandens


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American Bittersweet - opened capsules
credit: pverdonk/CCSA

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Family: Celastraceae, Staff Tree view all from this family

Description A twining, woody vine that produces small green flowers and distinctive bicolored fruits.
Habit: native perennial vine; multiple, woody, climbing or sprawling stems.
Height: to 30 ft (10 m) or more
Leaf: alternate, ovate to elliptical, pointed tip, sharply toothed; 2-6 in (50-150 mm) long, 1-2 in (25-50 mm) wide.
Flower: small, pale green to yellow-green, 5-parted; in 4 in (10 cm) terminal clusters of 14-50 flowerheads.
Fruit: round orange capsule, opening to reveal 3 bright red berries, 0.3 in (8 mm); in drooping clusters; persistent through winter.

Flower May to August.

Habitat Dunes, thickets, rocky slopes, fence rows, deciduous forests, forest edges, river banks, roadsides; also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Eastern and central North America, from Quebec south to Florida, west to Texas, northeast to Nebraska, Wyoming and Saskatchewan.

Discussion Also known as climbing bittersweet. This native species is being replaced in the Northeast by the more aggressive Asiatic Bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) which has escaped from cultivation, whose flowers and showy scarlet fruit are not terminal but arise from the leaf axils. Either species is capable of killing a large tree by twining tightly around it.