Friday, December 09, 2005

American Bittersweet

In earlier posts I mentioned finding several occurrences of a vine along the northern woodlot boundary next to the snake fence. The vine is very woody and it spirals clockwise up around tree saplings. The identification of the vine from the ground was difficult up to now because they reached up at least 10 metres (30 feet) and well into the canopy before it produced any leaves or flowers or berries. The leaves were also hidden by tree foliage. There are at least two relatively large vines with a base trunk diameter of nearly 3 cm. (one inch plus). The vine wraps around the trunk of the trees and in many cases the host tree died from mere physical strangulation. The vine trunk has a characteristically grey and relatively smooth bark.

During my walk in the clearing area G at the north-eastern corner of the woodlot I found American Bittersweet [Celastrus scandens L] which I was able to positively identify by its beautiful red berries and orange shells which (according to the various websites), is only produced by the female plant. I would venture to say that the woody trunk of this plant was identical in description to the vines noted above. I feel quite confident that the above vines are also American bittersweet.

Years ago while we were still preteens, my mother would take my bother and me, for walks in the woods. In a forest across what was then the old #2 highway (today it is the 2 and 20), and also across the CN and CP railway tracks which ran parallel to the highway – we found one patch of bushes that had berries just like these. I remember fondly how our mother used them with coniferous boughs to make beautiful Christmas wreaths. I recall though that these plants appeared to grow as bushes and not vines like those above.

1 comment:

Peter Leenhouts said...


Most of the bittersweet I've seen are vines.

There is a large bittersweet vine at my parent's home in southeastern Wisconsin; it grows all over the upper branches of a thornapple tree.

It is also pretty common along rural fencelines in the area which, unfortunately, are becoming more rare as the area has become largely suburban.

It is good to hear you identified it in Kars, as I didn't know it could tolerate the kind of cold weather you experience in the winter.

It is a beautiful and distinctive addition to north American Christmas decorations, that's for sure.

Pete Leenhouts