Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

The most distinctive characteristic of this woody vine are the orange-red seed capsules; they are quite decorative and attractive. The flowers, as revealed in the photograph above, are not very showy because of their green color. Another species in this genus, Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet), is less often encountered in Illinois. It was introduced from East Asia as an ornamental vine and has naturalized in a few wooded areas of the state. Because Oriental Bittersweet is a robust woody vine up to 60' long, there is some concern that it may become an invasive species. This has already occurred in some of the NE states. American Bittersweet differs from Oriental Bittersweet by the shape of its leaves, margins of its flower petals, and type of inflorescence. Specifically, American Bittersweet has ovate leaves with gradually tapering tips, flower petals with undulate or jagged margins, and short side branches with terminal panicles of flowers. Oriental Bittersweet, on the other hand, has ovate-orbicular leaves with short broad tips, flower petals with smooth margins, and non-terminal panicles of flowers that develop from the axils of the alternate leaves. Furthermore, the flower petals of Oriental Bittersweet are usually more narrow than those of American Bittersweet.
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Description

This native perennial plant is a woody vine up to 30' long that branches occasionally. It often climbs fences and adjacent vegetation by its twining stems, otherwise it sprawls across the ground. Young stems are green and hairless, but they eventually become brown and woody. The alternate leaves are up to 4" long and 2" across (excluding their petioles, which are up to 1" long). They are ovate, finely serrated, and hairless; each leaf tapers gradually to a point at its tip. Occasionally, short side branches are produced that individually terminate in a panicle of flowers up to 6" long. Each flower is about ¼" across, consisting of 5 light green petals, 5 green sepals, 5 stamens with yellow anthers, and a slender style. The petals are longer than the sepals, and spread outward from the center of the flower. Each petal has a margin that is often jagged or undulate, rather than smooth. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer and lasts about 2 weeks. Each flower is replaced by a seed capsule about 1/3" in length. Upon ripening, the exterior of this capsule becomes orange and splits open into 3 parts, revealing a red aril that covers the seeds (an aril is the fleshy covering that resembles a berry). Each of these capsules contains several large seeds. The root system consists of a woody taproot. This vine spreads by reseeding itself.
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Description

General: Bittersweet family (Celastraceae). Native dioecious or partly dioecious, semi-shrubs or semi-shrubby vines, forming low, thick stands from root suckers, clambering and climbing onto fences and trees, broadly twining and sometimes reaching nearly 20 meters high, the older stems becoming several cm broad; roots long, woody, bright-orange, creeping, about 2-3 cm thick, with a thick, red or yellowish-red bark (the medicinal part). Leaves are deciduous, alternate, spiral or somewhat 2-ranked by the twisting of the stem, glabrous, 5-12 cm long and about half as wide, oblong-elliptic to ovate or obovate, acuminate at the tip, with small, rounded teeth, the petioles 1-2 cm long. Flowers are unisexual (with either the stamens or the ovary abortive) or rarely bisexual, fragrant, small (ca. 4 mm wide), greenish-white or greenish-yellow, in clusters at the branch tips, usually with 14-44 flowers per cluster. Fruits are orange to yellow-orange, globose, 7-10 mm wide, with 2-4 cells; seeds 1-2 in each cell, each seed enclosed in a bright scarlet fleshy aril.

The related oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb.) is becoming more common than American bittersweet and is attaining a similar geographic range. The following contrast gives information for their separation:

1. Leaves mostly oblong-elliptic to ovate, 1.8-2.6 times longer than wide; flowers and fruits 6 or more in panicles (irregularly branching) at the branch tips. Celastrus scandens

2. Leaves mostly obicular to suborbicular or broadly obovate, 1.2-1.7 times longer than wide; flowers and fruits 2-3 in cymes (regularly branching) in the leaf axils below the branch tips. Celastrus orbiculatus

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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

American Bittersweet occurs occasionally in most counties of Illinois. It is less common than formerly because of overcollection of the fruiting branches, which were used for decorative purposes during the holidays. Habitats include rocky upland woodlands, sandy woodlands, typical savannas and sandy savannas, thickets, partially shaded banks along rivers, woodland edges along roadsides, limestone glades, fence rows, and sand dunes along Lake Michigan that are beginning to revegetate. Disturbance from fire and other causes are beneficial in wooded areas if they reduce dense shade from the overhead canopy.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: E. Temperate N. Am., from Queb. to Man. and MT, south from NC to TX. Peripheral.

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Adaptation

In rich or swampy woods, or appearing weedy in disturbed areas in thickets, roadsides, field edges, fences, and other disturbed sites. This species flowers in late May through June and produces fruits in June through November.

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American bittersweet grows over the eastern two-thirds of the US (except for Florida), on the western edge of the range from Texas and Oklahoma to Wyoming and Montana, and across southeastern Canada from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick.

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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

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

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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

American Bittersweet occurs occasionally in most counties of Illinois. It is less common than formerly because of overcollection of the fruiting branches, which were used for decorative purposes during the holidays. Habitats include rocky upland woodlands, sandy woodlands, typical savannas and sandy savannas, thickets, partially shaded banks along rivers, woodland edges along roadsides, limestone glades, fence rows, and sand dunes along Lake Michigan that are beginning to revegetate. Disturbance from fire and other causes are beneficial in wooded areas if they reduce dense shade from the overhead canopy.
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Dispersal

Establishment

The seeds are widely distributed by birds, which accounts for the tendency of the species to occur in disturbed habitats. Prechilling apparently is required to break dormancy -- seeds stratified for 90 days at 5º C., then planted in soil maintained at 20-25º, germinated at 71%.

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Associations

Faunal Associations

The flowers attract Halictid, Plasterer, Andrenid, and Mason bees, which suck nectar and collect pollen. Other occasional visitors of the flowers include ants and wasps (which suck nectar), and beetles (which probably feed on pollen). The caterpillars of the moth Pleuroprucha insularia (Common Tan Wave) feed on the foliage. Upland gamebirds that eat the seeds or buds include the Ruffed Grouse, Ring-Necked Pheasant, Bobwhite, and Wild Turkey. Fox Squirrels and some songbirds eat the seeds to a limited extent (including the Robin and Eastern Bluebird). The foliage and stems are an attractive source of food to various mammalian herbivores, including the Cottontail Rabbit, White-Tailed Deer, and cattle.
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Flower-Visiting Insects
of American Bittersweet Celastrus scandens (American Bittersweet)
(Bees suck nectar or collect pollen, wasps suck nectar; one observation is from Krombein et al. as indicated below, otherwise observations are from Robertson)

Bees (long-tongued)
Megachilidae (Osmiini): Hoplitis cylindricus sn

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochloropsis metallica metallica sn, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp; Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes aestivalis sn; Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena cressonii sn cp, Andrena heraclei (Kr)

Wasps
Vespidae (Eumeninae): Euodynerus foraminatus sn Return

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Celastrus scandens

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Celastrus scandens

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as state noxious status and wetland indicator values.

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Management

Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)

Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”

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American bittersweet vines can girdle and kill live plants used for support, but the native species rarely presents a problem because of its relative lack of abundance. Oriental bittersweet, however, is displacing the native species where they have begun to occur together, and there is some indication that they are hybridizing. The non-native species grows over vegetation and kills other plants by preventing photosynthesis, girdling, and uprooting by force of its massive weight. Its seeds are more numerous and more desirable by birds, thus more widely dispersed and they have a higher germination rate. The non-native species has higher pollen viability and also is more efficient in photosynthesis. Further, oriental bittersweet has been planted along roadsides for erosion control, it is propagated for horticulture and sold commercially, and its seeds are spread to waste places through disposal of dried flower arrangements.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

This woody vine adapts to a wide range of conditions, including full sun to light shade and moist to dry soil that can contain rich loam, sand, or rocky material. It is usually found in partially shaded conditions.
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Economic Uses

Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG

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Uses

American bittersweet is valued for its glossy green summer foliage followed by orange and red fruits and seeds, and several landscape cultivars are commercially marketed. The branches with colorful berries and arils are used in dry flower arrangements and winter decoration.

All parts of bittersweet are reported to be poisonous, but songbirds, ruffed grouse, pheasant, and fox squirrel eat the fruits. The Menominee, Ojibwa, and Potawatami tribes of North American Indians have used the inner bark as an emergency food. Various parts of the plant have been used in decoctions and ointments for a variety of ailments, including cough, intestinal, and gynecological problems.

Oil expressed from the seeds of the related species Celastrus paniculatus, a shrub native to India, has been used medicinally in India for centuries. The oil is used to increase memory and facilitate learning. It induces a feeling of well being and has reported aphrodisiac effects.

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Wikipedia

Celastrus scandens

Celastrus scandens, commonly called American bittersweet or bittersweet,[1] is a species of Celastrus that blooms mostly in June and is commonly found on rich, well-drained soils of woodlands. It is a sturdy perennial vine that may have twining, woody stems that are 30 feet (9.1 m) or longer and an inch or more thick at the base. The stems are yellowish-green to brown and wind around other vegetation, sometimes killing saplings by restricting further growth. It has tiny, scentless flowers at the tips of the branches. It has colorful, orange fruits that are the size of a pea. These fruits are poisonous to humans when ingested internally, but are favorites of birds.[2] C. scandens roots were used by Native Americans and pioneers to induce vomiting, to treat venereal disease, and to treat symptoms of tuberculosis.[3]

C. scandens is native to central and eastern North America. It was given the name bittersweet by European colonists in the 18th century because the fruits resembled the appearance of the fruits of Eurasian nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), which was also called bittersweet. Today, American bittersweet is the accepted common name of C. scandens in large part to distinguish it from an invasive relative, C. orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet), from Asia.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Caruso, David B. (2010-04-03). "NYC study: 50 native plants disappearing". PhysOrg.com. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  2. ^ a b "Celastrus scandens". Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  3. ^ Wildflowers Of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel, 1979, page 99


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