BITTERSWEET
File Size: 45 KB
 
Celastrus scandens  L.
Geary County, Kansas
Height: Vine to 50+ feet long
Family: Celastraceae - Staff Tree Family
Flowering Period:   May, June
Also Called: American bittersweet, climbing bitterswet.
Trunks: Woody vine, climbing or sprawling, to 50+ feet long, to 1 inch in diameter, forming dense twisting mass; bark of young stems smooth, pale brown; lenticels (air pores) conspicuous; bark of old stems with thin flakes; branches slender.
Twigs: Slender, flexible, twining, brown to grayish-brown, glabrous; leaf scars small, half-round; bundle scar 1, elongated; buds small, egg-shaped or conical, reddish-brown, pointed, often at 90 degree angle with twig.
Leaves: Alternate, simple, deciduous, ovate-oblong or elliptic, 1.2 to 4.8 inches long, .75 to 2.8 inches wide; upper surface green to dark yellowish-green, glabrous; lower surface paler, glabrous; margins finely-toothed; tip tapering to point; base tapering; stalk .4 to .6 inch long.
Flowers: Small, male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious); in panicles terminating branches or axillary at base of new growth leaves; staminate panicles many-flowered, 2 to 3 inches long; stalks of each flower 1/10 to 1/8 inch long; staminate calyx cup-shaped, 5-lobed; lobes egg-shaped, pointed to blunt; petals 5, egg-shaped, 1/8 to 1/6 inch long, greenish; stamens 5; anthers yellow; pistillate panicles 1 to 1.6 inch long, 5-25-flowered; flower stalks 1/8 to 1/5 inch long; calyx 5-lobed; lobes oblong, green; petals 5, egg-shaped to oblong, 1/3 inch long, yellowish-green, usually curled downward; style stout, green; stigma 3-lobed, yellowish.
Fruit: Late September; capsule, spherical, 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter, orange, splitting into 3-sections, exposing fleshy, spherical, red seed coat; seeds 3-6, (1-2 per cell), egg-shaped to ellipsoid, around 1/5 inch long, initially creamy-white, drying brown; capsule stalks 2/5 to 1/2 inch long; 6-20 fruits in drooping clusters 2.4 to 4 inches long.
Habitat: Woods, thickets, fencerows, roadsides, rocky hillsides, stream banks, bases of bluffs, margins of upland prairie; rocky soils.
Distribution: Principally in east 4/5 of Kansas
Origin: Native
Toxicity: The fruit can cause mild digestive disturbance but are eaten by birds. The leaves are toxic to horses.
Uses: Native Americans cooked the inner bark as an emergency food source in the winter, chewed the roots for coughs, took an infusion of bark to settle the stomach, and steeped the roots and applied the liquid on sores and the teeth and gums of teething infants. The Lakota rubbed chewed roots on the body, believing it would make them resistant to wounds. Birds nest in the twisting vines.
Comments: Bittersweet is the only species of Celastrus native to North America. It is sometimes planted as an ornamental. The fruits persist into winter. The wood is soft, porous, and white.

Bittersweet staminate flowers
57 KB
Geary County, Kansas
Bittersweet staminate inflorescence
53 KB
Geary County, Kansas
Bittersweet leaf
45 KB
Geary County, Kansas
Bittersweet
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Bittersweet fruit
70 KB
Marshall County, Kansas
Bittersweet fruit
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Marshall County, Kansas
Bittersweet immature fruit
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Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Chase County, Kansas
Bittersweet bud
26 KB
Morris County, Kansas
Bittersweet bud
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Morris County, Kansas
bittersweet bud
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Morris County, Kansas
Bittersweet staminate flowers
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Riley County, Kansas