Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Photos by Gary.  Trellis is 6' high.

Close-up of a fruit cluster, approx 4" long.

Several years ago we planted a couple American Bittersweet vines (Celastrus scandens). I just love the name…it evokes a sort of wistfulness that goes hand-in-hand with the outpouring of beautiful orange fruit just as the first traces of winter begin to loom on the horizon.

From HowStuffWorks on 24 Oct 2010 we learn the following facts:

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.

Description of American bittersweet: 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.

Growing American bittersweet: This plant will thrive in 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.

Uses for American bittersweet: 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.
There are both male and female plants, with a pair required to set fruit. Not knowing whether there was another specimen of the opposite sex in pollination range, we elected to plant one of each sex in at the same spot. I built a simple trellis out of 4x4 treated posts, and affixed a decorative metal fencing piece inside the arches.

Don’t be scared off by the dire warnings above. It’s a pretty plant with beautiful fruit, just don’t plant it where it can vine over onto something else.

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