American bittersweet

(Celastrus scandens)

Conservation Status
American bittersweet
Photo by Kirk Nelson
  IUCN Red List

not listed

     
  NatureServe

N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked

     
  Minnesota

not listed

     
           
Wetland Indicator Status
     
  Great Plains

UPL - Obligate upland

     
  Midwest

FACU - Facultative upland

     
  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland

     
           
 
Description
 
 

American bittersweet is a perennial woody vine that rises from a woody taproot. It is usually found climbing on a tree or other adjacent vegetation. It can climb up to 65. Occasionally it appears as a low shrub or sprawls on the ground.

Stems are green and hairless in the first year, becoming gray or brown in the second year. They do not have tendrils or aerial roots. They climb by growing spirally (twining) from left to right (dextrorsely). Older stems eventually become woody and get up 2¾ in diameter at the base. The branches are circular in cross section and are not winged.

The bark on young woody stems is thin and brown. On mature stems the bark is light gray and rough with corky, diamond-shaped ridges. The bark on older stems is smooth and peels off in flakes (exfoliates).

The leaves are alternate and deciduous. They are variable in shape, even on the same stem. When they first appear and begin unfolding each side of the blade is rolled inward toward the upper side. Young leaves are yellowish-green and have a long drawn out tip. Mature leaves are on to 1 long leaf stalks. The leaf blades are elliptic, elliptic egg-shaped, or inversely egg-shaped; 2 to 4¼ long; and 1 to 2 wide. They are often at least than 2 times as long as wide. They are rounded to angled or short tapered at the base, and usually tapered to a sharp point at the tip with curved sides along the tip. The leaf tip is often long or longer. Sometimes the leaf blades are rounded at the tip. The upper surface is green or dark green and hairless. The lower surface is paler green and hairless. The margins are finely toothed with rounded or incurved teeth. The teeth have small gland at the tip. The leaves turn greenish-yellow to yellow in the fall.

The inflorescence is an elongated, ¾ to 2 long, branched cluster (panicle) of 5 to 60 flowers at the end of each stem branch. The flowers mature from the bottom up.

Male and female flowers are similar and are borne on separate plants. Each flower is about ¼ across and has 5 sepals and 5 petals. The sepals are green and 132 to 1 16long. The petals are pale green or greenish white, about long, and 132 to 1 16wide.

Male flowers have 5 stamens and a small, nonfunctioning (vestigial) pistil. The stamens have white filaments the anthers have white pollen. Female flowers have a functioning pistil and 5 vestigial stamens (staminodia). The style is stout and has a 3-lobed stigma at the tip.

The fruit is a more or less globe-shaped, ¼ to ½in diameter, 3-lobed capsule. The capsule is green at first, turning bright orange at maturity. It matures in early September to early October. At that time the it splits open into three parts and folds back revealing 3 to 6 bright red, berry-like seed coatings (arils). Each aril contains a single brown seed. The fruits remain on the vine through the winter. They are poisonous to humans but not to birds.

 
     
 

Height

 
 

Climbing, up to 65 in length

 
     
 

Flower Color

 
 

Pale green or greenish white

 
     
 

Similar Species

 
  Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) bark is dark brown and does not exfoliate. When leaves first appear and begin unfolding the blade is folded in half along the midvein, not rolled inward. Mature leaves are broader, inversely egg-shaped to almost circular, and mostly less than 1.4 times as long as wide. The leaf tip is usually long or less. The inflorescence is a small cluster of 2 to 7 flowers rising from the leaf axils and at the end of the stem. The pollen on male flowers is yellow. The fruit capsule is yellow at maturity.  
     
 
Habitat
 
 

Moist to dry. Thickets, upland woodlands, woodland edges and openings, and roadsides. Partial shade.

 
     
 
Biology
 
 

Flowering

 
 

Mid-May to late June

 
     
 

Pests and Diseases

 
 

 

 
     
 
Use
 
 

 

 
     
 
Distribution
 
 

Distribution Map

 

Sources

2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 22, 24. 28.

 
  9/21/2014      
         
 

Nativity

 
 

Native

 
         
 

Occurrence

 
 

Widespread and fairly common

 
         
 
Taxonomy
 
  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (dicots)  
  Subclass Rosidae  
  Superorder Rosanae  
 

Order

Celastrales (staff-vines and allies)  
 

Family

Celastraceae (bittersweet)  
  Subfamily Celastroideae  
 

Genus

Celastrus (bittersweet)  
       
 

Subordinate Taxa

 
 

 

 
       
 

Synonyms

 
 

 

 
       
 

Common Names

 
 

American bittersweet

climbing bittersweet

staffvine

waxwork

 
       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glossary

Aril

A fleshy, berry-like covering of the seed coat, as with Canada yew.

 

Axil

The upper angle where a branch, stem, leaf stalk, or vein diverges.

 

Dextrorse

Turning to the right, as in some twining vines, or arranged spirally from left to right, as in leaf arrangement on a stem.

 

Exfoliate

Peel off in flakes or layers, as with the bark of some trees.

 

Filament

On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.

 

Panicle

A pyramidal inflorescence with a main stem and branches. Flowers on the lower, longer branches mature earlier than those on the shorter, upper ones.

 

Sepal

An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.

 

Staminode

A modified stamen that produces no pollen. It often has no anther. Plural: staminodia.

 

Twining

Growing in a spiral usually around a stem of another plant that serves as support.

 

Vestigial

An organ or part that is much reduced in size, imperfectly formed, and nonfunctional, that may have been larger, perfectly formed, and functional at one time.

 

Wing

A thin, flat, membranous, usually transparent appendage on the margin of a structure.

       
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Kirk Nelson
       
  American bittersweet   American bittersweet
       
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos
   

Vine

  American bittersweet   American bittersweet
       
  American bittersweet   American bittersweet
       

Leaves

  American bittersweet   American bittersweet
       
       

 

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Other Videos
 
  Climbing Bittersweet discovery
heynsenene's channel
 
   
 
About

Uploaded on Jan 25, 2012

Saw the berrys on the forest floor, jogged my memory, located it in my book, checked the web on the smartphone, and then shared it with you!! DON'T EAT THE BERRYS PEOPLE!

   
  American Bittersweet
OKGardeningClassics
 
   
 
About

Published on Jul 21, 2014

11/07/98-Host Brenda Sanders educates viewers about the American Bittersweet.

   
  Bittersweet ID & Damage for Crafters
University of Minnesota Extension
   
   
 
About

Published on Nov 26, 2013

University of Minnesota Extension forester Angie Gupta explains the differences between American bittersweet and Oriental bittersweet, and why crafters should take care to avoid using the invasive species Oriental bittersweet in wreaths and other crafts. Visit http://z.umn.edu/orientalbittersweet for more information.

Photos are courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Copyright 2013 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

   
       

 

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