Celastrus scandens, commonly called American bittersweet or bittersweet, 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, but are favorites of birds. C. scandens roots were used by Native Americans and pioneers to induce vomiting, to treat venereal disease, and to treat symptoms of tuberculosis.
Celastrus scandens is native to central and eastern North America. It was given the name bittersweet by colonists in the 18th century because the fruits resembled the appearance of the fruits of common 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. Based on a study, a hybrid of C. orbiculatus and C. scandens showed a reduced seed set and a small, infertile pollen. And a hybrid is produced by a C. scandens’ seed and a C. orbiculatus’ pollen.
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- Zaya, D.N., S. A. Leicht-Young, N. B. Pavlovic, K. A. Feldheim and M. V. Ashley. 2015. Genetic characterization of hybridization between native and invasive bittersweet vines (Celastrus spp.). Biological Invasions 17(10): 2975-2988. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-015-0926-z.