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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Bittersweet - Celastrus scandens

Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S1
(see State Rank Reason below)
State Threat Score: Low
CCVI: Moderately Vulnerable

Agency Status


External Links

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.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 09/24/2018
    View State Conservation Rank Criteria
    Population Size

    ScoreA - 1 - 50 individuals

    Range Extent

    ScoreB - 100-250 sq km (~40-100 sq mi)

    Comment5 occurrences occur within an approximate 126 sq km range extent.

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreC - 3-5 4-km2 grid cells

    CommentOf the 30,590 4x4 square kilometer grid cells that cover Montana, 3 cells are occupied by Celastrus scandens occurrences.

    Number of Populations

    ScoreA - 1 - 5

    Comment5 occurrences reported in 1975 and 2014.

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreD - Broad. Generalist or community with all key requirements common

    CommentBroad. Generalist or community with all key requirements common.


    ScoreD - Low

General Description
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.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The combination of alternate leaves, lack of tendrils, and orange fruits with red seeds distinguish this species from all other vines in our area.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
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: 11

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Riparian woodlands, green ash woodlands, and thickets on the plains.
Predicted Suitable Habitat Model

This species has a Predicted Suitable Habitat Model available.

To learn how these Models were created see

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).

Threats or Limiting Factors
Reported threats to Montana's populations of Bittersweet are those that have negative impacts to its habitat in woody draws (MTNHP Threat Assessment 2021). Plants were observed to have lower vigor from livestock grazing and trampling. Colonization of woody draws by non-native grasses, Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) and Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) are suspected of impacting Bittersweet’s ability to regenerate and thrive. The use of herbicides to control non-native grasses has the potential to negatively impact Bittersweet. However, the severity and scope of these reported threats needs to be determined.

  • 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), T.M. Barkley, R.E. Brooks, and E.K. Schofield (eds). 1986. Flora of the Great Plains: Great Plains Flora Association. Lawrence, KS: Univ. Press Kansas. 1392 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2022. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, Second Edition. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 779 p.
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Citation for data on this website:
Bittersweet — Celastrus scandens.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from