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 develop fruit. This is a multi-season vine, offering fragrant white flowers in spring, dense foliage in summer, fall color, and a fruit display in autumn.

Core Characteristics

Category: Vine

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 20 feet

Mature Spread: Varies

Growth Rate: Fast

Growth Form: Vine

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average

Flower: Green-white, fragrant

Bloom Period: May-June

Foliage: Glossy dark green

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Orange capsules ripen from September to October

Suggested Uses

American Bittersweet is 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.

American Bittersweet is a Wisconsin native climbing vine with colorful clusters of orange fruit capsules that open to reveal red seeds. Celastrus scan…

Wildlife Value

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

Flowers attracts various bees, which are the main pollinators, including Halictid, mason, Andrenid, and plasterer bees. Ants and wasps are occasional visitors as well.

The Common Tan Wave moth (Pleuroprucha insulsaria) is known to feed on the flowers.

Birds that are attracted to those bright orange berries include pheasants, Eastern Bluebirds,Ccardinals, Wood Thrushes, Chickadees, Robins, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite Quail, and Wild Turkey. These same birds also disperse the seeds.

Deer and rabbits may browse the stems and leaves.

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.

American Bittersweet is a Wisconsin native climbing vine with colorful clusters of orange fruit capsules that open to reveal red seeds. Celastrus scan…

Pests/Problems

American Bittersweet has no serious insect or disease problems.

Avoid growing vines up small trees as 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

Hydrangeas have similar foliage with large flowers that complement berry clusters. Grasses such as Eastern Star Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, and Little Bluestem will help fill in and cover the bottom of the vine as it matures upward.

American Bittersweet is a Wisconsin native climbing vine with colorful clusters of orange fruit capsules that open to reveal red seeds. Celastrus scan…
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Written by Johnson's Nursery