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Celastrus scandens is often confused with:
Celastrus orbiculatus Red fruit close-up (Alleghany County, NC)-Mid Fall
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Tilia americana Tilia americana
Smilax smallii Form (Moore County, NC)-Early Fall
Ulmus alata Ulmus alata

False Bittersweet Celastrus scandens

Phonetic Spelling
sel-ASS-trus SKAN-dens
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

American bittersweet is a rapidly growing twining vine in the Celastraceae (bittersweet) family, native to the southeast.  It is best known for its bright red berries and yellow leaves in the fall.  and the fruit is also used for dried arrangements.  

The best fruit display will occur in the full sun though it grows in partial shade.  It prefers moist well-drained slightly alkaline sandy soil though it will grow in a wide variety of soils as long as they are not overly wet.  Prune the vines back in the early spring to maintain a more compact form.  The stems twine around structures or trees and because they are woody they can strangle live supports like trees but they do not often kill their support.  If the vine is growing without anything to climb, it will sprawl along the ground appearing more shrublike.

These plants are primarily dioecious (separate male and female plants), although some have a few perfect flowers. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce the attractive fruit that is the signature of this vine. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find plants that are labeled as male or female as is done often with holly plants. Generally, one male plant is needed for 6-9 female plants. 

Birds are fond of showy red fruits and they provide a food source through the winter as well as attractive interest in the landscape.  The leaves turn an attractive yellow color in the fall.  The cut stems with fruits dry beautifully and make lovely arrangements.  Plant this large vine along woodland edges, in meadows or use it as a screen giving it a sturdy trellis to climb.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  It can be weedy, though it is not as problematic as C. orbiculatus

 

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Indian Brave'
  • 'Indian Maiden'
'Indian Brave', 'Indian Maiden'
Tags:
#deciduous#wildlife plant#weedy#winter interest#fall interest#showy fruits#fast growing#NC native#trellises#native garden#fruits fall#screening#orange fruits#dried arrangements#food source winter#fall color yellow#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#winter fruits#meadows#woodland garden
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Indian Brave'
  • 'Indian Maiden'
'Indian Brave', 'Indian Maiden'
Tags:
#deciduous#wildlife plant#weedy#winter interest#fall interest#showy fruits#fast growing#NC native#trellises#native garden#fruits fall#screening#orange fruits#dried arrangements#food source winter#fall color yellow#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#winter fruits#meadows#woodland garden
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Celastrus
    Species:
    scandens
    Family:
    Celastraceae
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central & E. Canada to N. & E. & Central U.S.A
    Wildlife Value:
    Birds enjoy the fruits.
    Climbing Method:
    Twining
    Edibility:
    Poison
    Dimensions:
    Height: 20 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 8 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Poisonous
    Vine
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Climbing
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is round 1/2" diameter, dry three lobed capsule that starts out green turning the outside orange which eventuallly splits exposing red seeds. They appear in fall and persist through winter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    Orange
    White
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Star
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Flowers form from May to June in elongated branched clusters at the terminal of new wood side branches. Clusters are about 6" long. Flowers are small (1/4") with 5 greenish-white petals, 5 green sepals. Separate male and female plants, male flowers have 5 yellow stamens, female flowers have a thick style crowned with a scalloped edge stigma in the center, and 5 small, sterile stamens.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Woody vine with alternate, simple, deciduous leaves with finely serrated margins, 2"-4" wide and 1"-2" wide, oblong elliptic, forming a long tapered tip at the top and rounded at the bottom, petioles are 3/4" long. When new leaves emerge in the spring, they have a rolled edge. Attractive yellow fall color.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Lenticels
    Peeling
    Bark Description:
    Gray bark has lenticles and flaking or peeling on more mature growth. Trunks can reach 2 1/2" in diameter.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    New growth is green turing brown/gray and more woody with age.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Rock Wall
    Vertical Spaces
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Dry Soil
    Salt
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, seizures
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Cardenolides, alkaloids
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Bark
    Flowers
    Fruits
    Leaves
    Roots
    Sap/Juice
    Seeds
    Stems