Bittersweet Plants November 26, 2007
Another plant found near the corner of Obee Rd. near Oak Openings, the now famous location of the Pine Grosbeak, was this fall ornamental- Bittersweet. I believe this photo is of American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens a native plant that has been much coveted for use in fall floral arrangements and wreaths.
There is also another Bittersweet found too often in natural areas, unfortunately Oriental Bittersweet. Celastrus orbiculatus is an aggressive non-native that "pythons" it way up trees, growing in to thickened ropes that eventually choke the life out of the trees it climbs. This plant has large, rounded leaves but the berries are so similar, many people have planted this noxious weed for its ornamental value. Birds, unfortunately, enjoy eating the fruits of both plants and propagate them via their digestive system- an outstanding form of seed dispersal! The Oriental Bittersweet seems to grow much more prolifically than the native species; I have seen entire woodlots canopied in its malevolent grip. Don't hesitate to eradicate it from your property.
It is believed both plants were confused with a European plant Bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara which also has berries. Its enchanting purple flowers were featured on a much earlier blog. It is a deadly plant in the tomato or Solanum family, while the Bittersweets featured here, are Celastracea . According to Horticulture's Plant Names Explained, Celatus means concealed, and indeed, these plants conceal their berries with a hard covering that peels back to reveal the fruit when it has become ripe.
Enjoy the beauty of these fall-fruiting natives, but beware of the invasive oriental, lest your landscape is strangled by these errant vines.