There are two species of bittersweet: American bittersweet and Oriental bittersweet. Oriental bittersweet is considered an invasive species and ecological threat. The PSA (Plant Conservation Alliance) states, "Oriental bittersweet is a vigorously growing vine that climbs over and smothers vegetation which may die from excessive shading or breakage...In addition, Oriental bittersweet is displacing our native American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) through competition and hybridization." Care should be taken to plant American bittersweet.
American bittersweet is a deciduous, twining, climbing vine. This vine can reach heights of up to 20 feet. American bittersweet produces a ¼-inch-diameter fruit in the months of July through October. The fruit is orange in color and hangs in a cluster approximately 2 to 4 inches long. These fruits split open in late fall, revealing a bright red seed. Grouse, pheasant, quail, rabbits and squirrels enjoy the fruit of this vine. Note: the seeds of the bittersweet are poisonous to humans.
Celastrus scandens is also known as climbing bittersweet, false bittersweet, climbing orange-root, fever-twig, fever-twitch, staff-vine and Jacob's-ladder. Due to its climbing characteristics, American bittersweet is usually used in landscape design to cascade over a trellis, or cover an unsightly wall or fence. It is a lovely vine whose fruit adds color to the garden in the fall season. The branches of the bittersweet vine are used in dried flower and winter arrangements.
Bittersweet is easy to grow and maintain. It will do well when planted in a site that provides full sun. Bittersweet will tolerate a variety of soil types as long as the soil is well drained. You will need both a male and a female plant for pollination. The vines should be pruned in early spring. Pruning at this time will increase growth. Prune at other times to keep the vine within its space in your garden.
Due to its ability to climb, take care to keep the vine away from young trees and shrubs. If allowed to grow on a young tree or shrub the vine may cut off the other plant's sap flow, causing it to die. The fruit is poisonous to humans, and young children should be warned about this. (If you have young children in your family you may not want to plant this vine.)
Oriental Bittersweet and American Bittersweet
The PCA discusses manual, mechanical and chemical control methods to remove and kill the invasive Oriental bittersweet. Yet, according to the PCA, American bittersweet is becoming less and less common. They suggest that before any removal methods are undertaken, you make sure that you will be destroying Oriental bittersweet and not American bittersweet. PCA states, "...it is imperative that correct identification be made before any control is begun."