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TREES & Plants

American bittersweet

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 red seeds.  For fruit, American bittersweet needs both male and female vines and should be should be sited in full sun and pruned in early spring. Do not confuse this vine with Oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, an invasive plant.

Botanical name: 
Celastrus scandens
All Common Names: 
American bittersweet, Climbing bittersweet
Family (English): 
Staff-tree
Family (Botanic): 
Celastraceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Vine
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Medium
  • Fast
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Occasional flooding
  • Clay soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Sandy soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Spreading
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing
  • Screen
Time of Year: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

A twining vine growing 30 to 40 feet long.

Tree & 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. 

Disease, pests and problems

Powdery mildew, crown gall and euonymus scale

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value:  4
Found in a wide range of growing conditions.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is thin and brown and will peel on older stems.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves are 4 inch long ovals with finely toothed margins; leaf tips elongated.
Fall color is yellow.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous; small flowers in dangling  clusters.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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