Content Detail

American bittersweet is a climbing vine that twines around its support. Its attractive feature is its autumn fruit, a yellow-orange three-lobed capsule with showy orange-red seeds.  For fruit, American bittersweet needs both male and female vines and should be sited in full sun and pruned in early spring. Do not confuse this vine with Oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, an invasive plant. 

  • Family (English) Staff-tree
  • Family (botanic) Celastraceae
  • Tree or plant type Vine
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large plant (more than 24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, Sandy soil, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Clay soil, Dry sites, Occasional flooding, Road salt
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Vining
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate

Size and method of climbing:

A twining vine that grows 30 to 40 feet long.  Twining vines climb by twisting their stems or leaf stalks around a support.  This type of vine grows well on trellises, arbors, wires or chain-link fences.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value:  4  American bittersweet is found in a wide range of growing conditions.  It is native to Illinois and the Chicago region.

Leaf description:

Simple, alternate leaves are 4 inch long ovals with finely toothed margins; leaf tips elongated.  (Oriental bittersweet leaves are more rounded.) Fall color is yellow.

Flower description:

Inconspicuous; small flowers are borne in terminal clusters.  (Oriental bittersweet flower clusters are borne in the leaf axils.)

Fruit description:

Fruit is a yellow-orange, three-lobed capsule with showy orange-red seeds, often persistent into winter.  Male and female plants are required to set fruit.

Plant care:

Prune in early spring to keep under control and promote fruiting. Both a male and female plant are needed to produce fruit on the female plant. Not to be confused with Oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, an invasive plant. Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Pests, diseases and tolerances: 

American bittersweet is susceptible to powdery mildew, crown gall, and euonymus scale.  It is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Autumn Revolution™ American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens ‘Bailumn’):

A self-pollinating plant, only one plant is needed to produce fruit.  Fruit are large and abundant.

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