Plants - Vines and Groundcovers

Bittersweet berries for fall

Lorraine Hunter

Properly sited, this exuberant vine brings privacy, shade and welcome fall colour to the garden

Bittersweet produces male and female flowers on separate plants, so both types must be grown to ensure fruit set. Male plants (such as C. orbiculatus ‘Hercules’) are the most vigorous and generally need to be pruned harder than female plants (including C. o. ‘Diana’) to prevent crowding out the berry-producing females. One male plant is sufficient for up to five females.

Bittersweet is not easily transplanted because of its spreading root system. It’s best propagated by sowing seeds in containers in an open frame as soon as they’re ripe, or in the spring. Small, young plants will grow rapidly once established and can become a nuisance if not hard pruned occasionally (ideally when dormant from late winter to early spring) to keep them under control.

Bittersweet is known by many names, including climbing orange root, fever twig, red root, Roxbury waxwork and staff vine. Its Ojibwa name, Manidobima’kwit, means “spirit twisted,” in reference to the twisted intestines of legendary hero Winabojo, also known as Nanabush, who was a “spirit boy,”- or trickster, and taught the Ojibwa how to live in the natural world.

Growing tips

  • Although Celastrus spp. will produce more fruit in full sun, it also thrives in semi-shade.
  • All types of bittersweet adapt to most soil types but may become overly aggressive in very rich soil.
  • Grow it on trellises and walls but away from trees and shrubs, as its twining habit can constrict and potentially kill them.
  • While the vine has few pests, it may occasionally be bothered by powdery mildew or leaf fungus, which can generally be controlled by simply removing the diseased leaves or applying a fungicide in severe cases

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