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 should be sited in full sun and pruned in early spring. Do not confuse this vine with Oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, an invasive plant.
This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Large plant (more than 24 inches)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8
- Alkaline soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil,
- Sandy soil
Season of Interest:
- Early winter,
- Mid winter,
- Early fall,
- Mid fall,
- Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
Size and Method of Climbing
A twining vine growing 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.
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
Disease, pests and problem resistance
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Native geographic location and habitat
Found in a wide range of growing conditions. Native to Illinois and the Chicago region.
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.
Inconspicuous; small flowers in terminal clusters. (Oriental bittersweet flower clusters are borne in the leaf axils.)
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.