Bittersweet - Celastrus scandens
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Celastrus scandens occurs frequently in woodlands, rocky hillsides, thickets, fence rows, and roadsides in the Great Plains (McGregor et al. 1986). The previous Montana rank of SH was based on a vague location provided on a 1975 herbarium specimen. In recent years it has been been collected at four locations in woody draws. It appears that the Montana sites represent the western edge of its range, and currently it ranks as an S1. Additional surveys of woody draws are needed to accurately document its distribution and population size in Montana.
Bittersweet is a climbing woody vine with twisting stems that reach up to 18 m long. The alternate, elliptic leaf blades, 5-10 cm long, taper to a pointed tip and have finely serrated edges and petioles reaching up to 3 cm long. The greenish, unisexual flowers are borne in narrow inflorescences which are 3-8 cm long at the end of the stems. The flowers have a cup-shaped calyx which is 2-3 mm high and composed of 5 sepals that are united at the base and of 5 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 capsule, 1 cm in diameter, that splits along three lines to expose the single, large, bright orangish red seed.
Flowering and fruiting May-July; fruits persisting in fall.
The combination of alternate leaves, lack of tendrils, and orange fruits with red seeds distinguish this species from all other vines in our area.
In Richland and Dawson Counties, Montana. Occurs from SK to QC south to WY, TX, TN and NC (Lesica et al. 2012).
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
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(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Riparian woodlands, green ash woodlands, and thickets on the plains.
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
American bittersweet is sometimes planted as an ornamental because the cluster of red fruits persist until mid-winter (McGregor et al. 1986). In deeply shaded habitats, plants may not produce fruits (McGregor et al. 1986).
Birds often eat the fruit of American Bittersweet, but it may be poisonous to humans and there are reports of horses being poisoned from eating the leaves (McGregor et al. 1986).
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Lesica, P., M. T. Lavin, and P. F. Stickney. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 771 p.
- McGregor, R.L., coordinator, and T.M. Barkley, R.E. Brooks, and E.K. Schofield, eds.: Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: Univ. Press Kansas. 1392 pp.