American Bittersweet Lights Up Autumn | Announce

American Bittersweet Lights Up Autumn |  Announce

‘Autumn Revolution’ Ripe sweet and sour berries. (Image courtesy of Bailey’s Nursery, www.baileynurseries.com)

Written by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension Educator

Bittersweet berries are a beautiful fall decoration, and gardeners may think that growing their own berries is a great idea. But bittersweet is a fast-growing vine that can easily get out of control. Vines tangle and climb over nearby shrubs and trees, which can severely damage or kill them. It’s a poor choice for a finished area of ​​an urban landscape, but it makes sense for wilderness areas, clearings or farms with a back fence, a rock pile, an old windmill or a deteriorating tree where it could be jostled. Or, for smaller inner-city landscapes, they can be grown in a whiskey barrel or other container to control their growth – just provide a trellis for them to climb.

Easy to grow
American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, is native to North America from Canada to South Dakota and New Mexico. It is a woody perennial or vine-like shrub with glossy dark green alternate leaves, turning from greenish to yellow in fall. The plants produce unshowy greenish-white flowers, which can easily be overlooked by gardeners in May and June.

It is very easy to grow and thrive in any type of soil, including dry sites and soil with a high pH. In fact, one way to slow down their aggressive nature is to deliberately plant them in a place with very poor soil; It will quickly outgrow its limits when grown in good soil. It flowers and fruits best when grown in full sun.

The plant’s height is often listed as 20 feet, but it will continue to grow if it has something to grow on. Plants are hardy to zone 3.

Autumn revolution
Bittersweet wild plants are dioecious, meaning they have either all male flowers or all female flowers. Only female plants produce berries, but pollen from the male vine flowers is necessary for berry formation. However, a 1:1 ratio of male and female plants is not needed – one male plant can pollinate several female plants.

The difficulty, until recently, was that the lines of male and female plants in the garden center had not been identified. So, if unnamed bittersweet seedlings were purchased from a garden center or online, there was no way to know whether they were female or male plants.

However, in 2009, Bailey’s Nursery introduced ‘Autumn Revolution’, a unique bittersweet that has ‘perfect’ flowers – meaning its flowers have both male and female structures in each flower. This means gardeners can purchase a single plant and it will produce beautiful bunches of fruit, avoiding the headache of finding male and female plants. ‘Autumn Revolution’ also has larger than normal berries. Michael Dear, author of “The Woody Landscape Plant Guide,” describes them as being the size of a marble and clustering fruit like a “bunch of grapes.” It is available at online and mail-order nurseries.

Do not plant oriental sweets
When purchasing sweet and sour, make sure you know what types you are purchasing! One related species, the eastern bittersweet, C. orbiculatus, is considered a priority species by the Nebraska Invasive Species Program. This means it is a high priority to eradicate new or existing populations so they do not become a noxious weed, as they are in many other states.

Non-native invasive plants, such as eastern bittersweet, crowd out preferred native plants, degrading habitat for wildlife and insects.

American bitters and Oriental bitters can be identified by their fruit clusters. The American bittersweet bunches are fewer in number but larger, often 2-4 inches long, and develop at the tip of each vine. Oriental sweets produce more fruit clusters, but they are smaller and develop at the junction where the leaf attaches to the main stem. Thus each sweet oriental vine may have several small fruit clusters spread along the end of each vine.

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