American Bittersweet

Celastrus scandens

Celastraceae (Spindletree Family)


▲▼ mature vines on fence at University of Missouri Southwest Center in Mt. Vernon, MO

▲ illustration of vine twining around the fence wires

▲ cluster of immature fruit with leaves

▲▼ fruit are in clusters at tips of stems, not at each leaf node (important to distinguish it from invasive Chinese Bittersweet (Roundleaf Bittersweet)

▲ close-up of mature fruit, splitting to reveal darker-orange centers

▲ leaves and stems

▲ young shoots twining up from rootstocks

Location on or near campus:  not known

Celastrus scandens: American Bittersweet

        Deciduous vine with opposite, ovate leaves, shiny dark green leaves with serrate to crenate margins and pointed tip; 2-4" long

        Vine is brown to tan and climbs by twining about 20' tall; can kill plants by girdling stems

        Dioecious; flowers not showy, but 3-lobed, bright orange capsule fruit with crimson seeds in terminal clusters at tips of stems on female plants are very showy and are used in dried arrangements

        Fast rate of growth

        Prefers full sun, but tolerates some shade; adaptable to soil types


        Important to distinguish the increasingly less common native American Bittersweet from the invasive Chinese or Oriental Bittersweet before cultivating, by looking for the following distinguishing characteristics:

o   Leaves:  American bittersweet leaves more oval, at least twice as long as wide; Chinese Bittersweet has more rounded leaves less than twice as long as wide

o   Fruit:  American bittersweet has flowers/fruit in terminal panicles at tips of stems, and the fruit capsule is more orange; Chinese Bittersweet has flowers/fruit in axils of leaves and the fruit capsule is more yellow-orange