Thursday, November 11, 2010


"It's bittersweet, more sweet than bitter, bitter than sweet"

Those are the lyrics to the 1993 song "Bittersweet" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. I find myself unconsciously singing this song every time I come across this vine full of it's berries. Yes, it is invasive, but this time of year, the plant can't be beat for autumn splendor.  The foliage is a golden yellow and the orange seed pods break open to reveal a red berry inside. 

This highly invasive vine is Celastrus orbiculatus, or Oriental Bittersweet vine. It has been known to strangle host plants by twining itself over and around anything it comes in contact with.  Not something you'd want growing in your backyard, but I think it can be appreciated in a natural setting or along the fence on the side of the road.

This bittersweet vine should not be confused with the native, non-invasive American bittersweet vine. One way to distinguish the two is to look at the berries. The berries of American bittersweet plants appear at the tips of the vines only, while those of Oriental bittersweet vines grow along the length of the vine.

All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans, but birds do enjoy the berries. I've used this vine in floral arrangements and holiday decor - perfect for this time of year. I remove the leaves and enjoy the flexible stems, heavily laden with berries. The hard orange cups break open but often remain attached to the red berry inside so the combination of colors, along with the usual abundance of berries along the stem really is quite stunning!


  1. Dear Kate, Bittersweet as you say... to plant or not to plant that is the question. In gardening we are faced with so many of these dilemmas and often those beguiling beauties are th e ones to be most wary of!!

  2. Well said, Edith! I love this plant in the fall, but not sure if I'd want to deal with all its other issues throughout the year. dilemmas, dilemmas...

  3. More sweet than bitter? Beautiful vine.


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