Sweet Bittersweet

By Susan Littlefield

With its abundant berries in autumnal shades, bittersweet vine has long been a favorite for fall decorating. Unfortunately the popular Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a rampantly growing vine that is a prohibited noxious weed in many of the New England states and considered a potential invasive in some other areas.

Fortunately for gardeners and home decorators, the native species of this vine, Celastrus scandens, is both decorative and not such a threat. It is, however, a vigorous vine that can grow to 25 feet and engulf shrubs and young trees growing in its path, so it needs thoughtful placement in the landscape. The main difference between the two species is that on American bittersweet vines, the flower clusters are borne at the ends of the stems, while they're found along the stems on the Oriental Bittersweet. The yellowish white flowers are not particularly showy. It's in fall, when the three-lobed yellow-orange fruit capsules open to reveal a crimson seed, that the true decorative value of the vine becomes apparent.

Bittersweet is dioecious, that is male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. Only the female vine will produce the decorative fruits, but a male vine must be nearby for the female flowers to be pollinated and form fruits. To make sure that you have at least one plant of each sex, choose named cultivars such as 'Diana' (female) and 'Hercules' (male) or 'Indian Maiden' and 'Indian Brave.'

But now there are exceptions to this rule. Autumn Revolution™ (C. scandens 'Bailumn') and Sweet Tangerine™ (C.scandens 'Swtazam') are self-fruitful American bittersweet vines. Only one vine is necessary for fruiting, a boon to gardeners with limited space.

For more information on American bittersweet, go to: Plant Diversity. For more information on Sweet Tangerine® American bittersweet, go to: Lake Country Nursery. For more information on Autumn Revolution™ American bittersweet, go to: Gardening Club.

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