South Dakota Native Plant Research
Celastraceae : Celastrus scandens

Celastraceae : Celastrus scandens


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Family Name


Common Name

American bittersweet

Native American Name

Dakota: Zuzecha-ta-wote, Lakota: zuzéča tȟawóte


Celastrus scandens is a perennial climbing woody vine with twisting stems that reach up to 18 m long. The plants are dioecious, being either male or female, and spread vegetatively by root suckers. The simple, alternate leaves have petioles 1-3 cm long with short stipules (~1 mm). The blades are elliptic to ovate-oblong 3-10 cm long with a pointed tip and the margins are finely toothed. The greenish, unisexual flowers are borne in narrow racemes or panicles which are 3-8 cm long. The flowers are 5-merous with a cup-shaped calyx, 2-3 mm long, united at the base and spreading petals that are 3-6 mm long. Male flowers have 5 stamens, while female flowers have a single 3-parted ovary. Fruit is an orange or yellowish 3-valved capsule, 8-12 mm in diameter, that splits to expose the fleshy bright orange to red aril-covered seeds. There are 1-2 reddish brown seeds in each locule, elliptical in shape and 5-6 mm long. Bittersweet blooms from May to July in woodlands, thickets and along fence rows in much of South Dakota.

Additional Notes

American bittersweet is a very attractive plant growing on a trellis or a fence. The female plant produces the ornamental berries, but a male is needed for pollination. Both male and female plants need to be grown semi-close to each other to get the ornamental fruit that many desire. The fruit often lasts through the winter and attracts many bird species.

Horticulture Notes

Seed Collection: Collect seed after fruit has split open in September.

Germination: Fall sowing or 4-month cold, moist stratification before spring sowing. Plant sex can only be determined at flowering, so you need to start several plants.

Vegetative Propagation: Softwood cuttings with rooting hormone.

Soils: Tolerant of most conditions.

Light: Full sun to partial shade.

Water: Moderate

Celastraceae : Celastrus scandens