This Wisconsin native is woody and tough. Found on rich, well-drained woodland soils in the wild, American Bittersweet can be over an inch in diameter at the base and get over 30 feet high. It twines and climbs other vegetation without support and can kill saplings in the woods by restricting their growth. Sound tough enough yet? Don’t be intimidated. In the landscape, American Bittersweet is well-behaved as long as it has average moisture and a structure to climb. The flowers are insignificant looking but subtly and sweetly fragrant. A mid-June garden surprise. The dark green foliage is full and lush.
In the fall, clusters of orange fruit capsules (filled with red seeds) form in bunches at the growing tips. The fruits are poisonous to us – American Bittersweet was used by Native Americans to induce vomiting – but are highly desirable to birds. Florists love them too as the fruit capsules are showy and long-lasting indoors. American Bittersweet is dioecious so you need to have both male and female plants nearby to get the great fruit.
We often carry cultivars that have male and female parts present in most of their flowers, which means they will set fruit on their own. If space is limited, go with the Autumn Revolution™ cultivar. Learn more about American Bittersweet.