Celastrus scandens

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: American bittersweet 
Type: Vine
Family: Celastraceae
Native Range: North America
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 15.00 to 20.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Greenish-white to yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer, Drought


Easily grown in most soils. Best in lean to average soils with regular moisture in full sun. Lean soils help restrain growth. Will grow in part shade, but needs full sun for best flowering and subsequent fruit display. Prune in late winter to early spring. Mature vines require little pruning other than removal of dead or excess growth. These plants are primarily dioecious (separate male and female plants), although some have a few perfect flowers. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce the attractive fruit that is the signature of this vine. Unfortunately, some nurseries do not sell the vines as male or female (as is commonly done with hollies). Generally one male plant is needed for 6-9 female plants. Female plants may be vegetatively propagated to create more female plants. Vines may be grown on structures or allowed to ramble along the ground. It is generally best to avoid growing vines up small trees or through shrubs because vines grow rapidly and can girdle trunks and branches causing damage and sometimes death. Vines sucker at the roots to form large colonies in the wild. Vines will also self-seed, often with assistance from local bird populations.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Celastrus scandens, commonly called American bittersweet, is a deciduous twining woody vine that is best known for its showy red berries that brighten up fall and winter landscapes. This species is native to central and eastern North America including Missouri. In Missouri, bittersweet is typically found in woodland areas, thickets, rocky slopes, bluffs, glade peripheries and along fence rows throughout the State (Steyermark). It is often seen growing along the ground, over and through low shrubs or circling trees in the wild. Berry-laden branches are prized for use as indoor decorations, and collection of the branches in the wild has significantly reduced the wild populations in some areas. Rapidly grows to 20’. It produces serrate, elliptic to ovate, yellowish-green leaves (to 4” long). Staminate and pistillate flowers appear in clusters on separate plants in late spring. Flowers are greenish-white to yellow. Fertilized female flowers give way in summer to spherical orange-yellow fruits. Fruits split open in fall to reveal scarlet fleshy berry-like seeds (arils). Fruits are poisonous if ingested, but are considered to be quite tasty by many birds.

Genus name comes from the Greek word kelastros for an evergreen tree.

Specific epithet means climbing.

In the 1700s, plants were given the name bittersweet by European colonists because their fruits purportedly resembled in appearance the fruits of a Eurasian nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) that was known to them as bittersweet. The common name of false bittersweet also came to be used for the within species to distinguish it from the Eurasian nightshade. American bittersweet is the generally accepted common name that is used today, in large part to distinguish this American native from its aggressive Asiatic relative, C. orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet) which has escaped cultivation and is naturalizing in parts of eastern and central North America.


No serious insect or disease problems. Euonymus scale and two-marked treehoppers may cause significant damage in some areas.


Woodland gardens, naturalized areas. Provides quick cover for fences, arbors, trellises, posts, walls or other structures in the landscape. Also may be grown along the ground to camouflage rock piles or old tree stumps.