Bittersweet second thoughts

Bittersweet flowers - female? (by RPOP)

Female American bittersweet flowers…maybe.

Bittersweet flowers - male? (by RPOP)

Male American bittersweet flowers…maybe.

My lack of botany training is catching up with me.  I was so excited that the bittersweet vines have finally covered the trellis and are blooming, but now I’m worried that these might actually be the invasive Celastrus orbiculatus rather than the native Celastrus scandens.  Furthermore, what was supposed to be the male plant has flowers that look suspiciously like the (supposed) female plant.   I looked for identification guides online, but the terminology is a little dense to wade through.   Any pro or amateur botanists out there that can tell me which one these look like, and if these are of different sexes?  I’d be happy to add more photos if you can tell me what you need to see.

And if you’re not a botanist, I’d appreciate any kind words about how you face ripping out something that finally looks good after 2 years of waiting….

Update: it wasn’t the native.  See the proof in my later post.  Also, see what native bittersweet flowers really look like.


6 responses to this post.

  1. […] Plants, Pond, Wildlife — lakechicagoshores @ 10:32 am I’m still in the dark about whether I inadvertently planted an invasive bittersweet, but that’s not the only thing going on these […]


  2. […] Plants, Natural Science — lakechicagoshores @ 7:09 pm I was wondering earlier this year whether I had invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) or native American bittersweet (…. I pretty much figured out that I had the former (and was cursing out Spring Hill Nursery for […]


  3. Posted by Rachel on April 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I was just looking for photos of the invasive bittersweet and came across your post. This was a year ago, so perhaps you’ve sorted it out, but you’ve got the invasive. The native will only have flowers and fruits appearing at the tips of the vine, not all along it. If you want to get rid of it, you’ll probably have to cut the vine and herbicide it. Good luck!


  4. Posted by lakechicagoshores on April 14, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Yep, you’re right: it’s the invasive. I figured this out later in the season and bought native plants. You can read more about it at .

    Right now, I’m just trimming back the invasive because I don’t want an empty trellis. Once the native stuff is big enough, I’ll root out the invasive. Fortunately, it didn’t fruit last year, and it’s in a pretty small bed, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get rid of.


  5. Posted by Elisabeth SuChy on July 26, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I don’t know much about plants, except, I like to grow them, hate to weed and am allergic to just about everything. Here in New England, we have bittersweet. It climbs up trees and bushes and can develop vines just as big around as the tree. It can strangle the life out of a tree. You can tell when bittersweet has done this because its the only green, when the rest is dead brown. Because I am short and not real strong, I try to clip the bittersweet down by the roots and pull it off the tree if the vines aren’t too long. But I break out and itch terribly where the vines strike against my skin. I do research about allergens, and have not come up with much. The marks on my skin look like ivy or sumac, itch like crazy and sometimes have to be treated with steroids. Even the local doctors say I must have gotten into ivy or sumac….don’t I know what it looks like? But I know its that darned bittersweet I clipped off the tree the other day.


    • Posted by lakechicagoshores on July 27, 2009 at 9:16 am

      I guess the question is whether the plant you are getting into is native bittersweet or the non-native. My non-native plants – which I’m getting rid of this year – are thorny and do seem to be a little irritating. My natives are still pretty small and I haven’t clipped them yet, so I can’t say whether they’re as difficult to deal with. I tend to not wear gloves when gardening, but dealing with the bittersweet is a big exception!


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