Climbing Bittersweet

Celastrus scandens

Mark Moran

Climbing Bittersweet is a woody vine which grows by twining itself around shrubs, trees, and other plants.

It usually grows in thickets, fields, woods, or riverbanks.

Climbing Bittersweet can grow up to 60 feet tall, hanging from the branches of trees. It has oval-shaped green leaves, up to four inches long, which turn yellow in the Fall. The leaves have small teeth on the edges.

Bittersweet flowers are small and green, about 1/6 inch wide, in clusters about four inches long.

The fruits of this vine start off green and look like berries. They turn from green to yellow, and from yellow to orange. In the Winter, the orange outer layer opens and falls off, leaving three bright red parts underneath. Each of the three sections has one or two seeds in it.

Alice B. Russell, Poisonous Plants of North Carolina

Darrin Kimbler, Wisconsin State Herbarium

Climbing Bittersweet flowers bloom in May and June. They are pollinated by bees and other insects.

Fruits are eaten by small mammals and birds, including American Robin, Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, and Eastern Gray Squirrel. Rabbits eat leaves and twigs.

Bittersweet depends on animals to eat the fruits and poop out the seeds in new places. This lets the plant spread its seeds to grow new plants.

Climbing Bittersweet can cripple and kill the plants it grows on by wrapping tightly around them. This is called "girdling." When it girdles a plant, the bittersweet vine becomes a parasite.

Climbing Bittersweet itself is becoming less common, because another vine, Oriental Bittersweet, was introduced and is taking over in places where Climbing Bittersweet grows. Oriental Bittersweet comes from Asia and is pushing out Climbing Bittersweet, which is native.

Oriental Bittersweet can also be a parasite, and is more aggressive (grows quicker and more easily). This could cause problems not just for Climbing Bittersweet, but for other plants as well.

Both vines provide shelter for small animals and birds.

Robert R. Kowal, Wisconsin State Herbarium

Copyright, Natalia Hamill: Clarity Connect, Inc.

Dennis W. Woodland, Wisconsin State Herbarium

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants

OTHER

Eastern Cottontail

Gray Catbird

Highbush Blueberry

American Robin

American Robin

Greenbrier

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Northern Cardinal

Smooth Sumac

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

Sassafras

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Cottontail

Evergreen Blackberry

Wild Turkey

Eastern Chipmunk

Witch Hazel

Honey Bee

White-footed Mouse

Red Maple

Golden Northern Bumble Bee

Meadow Vole

Sweetgum

Gray Catbird

American Toad

Sassafras Weevil

Chinese Mantid

Green Stinkbug

True Katydid

Wild Turkey

Muskrat

Beaver

Eastern Gray Squirrel

White-throated Sparrow

Spined Micrathena

Eastern Worm Snake

Relationship to Humans:

Climbing Bittersweet is only a problem to people when it grows over favorite plants and shrubs in their yards, but it can easily be trimmed. Many people grow it on fences and walls for its leaves and colorful fruits. It also attracts wildlife.

Climbing Bittersweet is poisonous to humans.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Plant
DIVISION
Magnoliophyta
CLASS
Magnoliopsida
ORDER
Celastrales
FAMILY
Celastraceae
GENUS
Celastrus
SPECIES
Celastrus scandens

QUICK LINKS

Organism Menu
Home
Glossary
Student Activities
Relationships
Classification Info
How to Use This Site
Bibliography