Focus on Natives: Bittersweet

Focus on Natives…Bittersweet
A fall walk in the timber just wouldn’t be the same without this bright colored favorite. It goes unrecognized most of the season, but when its fruits take on the bright orange their known for, Bittersweet really grabs your attention.

This native plant is a vine. It is commonly found growing in the underbrush of wooded areas, in fencerows and on the edges of the timber. Although it is frequently found growing in shady areas, it can also be grown in more sunny areas…all it needs to something to twist around as it grows…and lots of room! In the wild it can be found growing 20-30′ tall…or more!

The fruits are really what everyone falls in love with. The fruit capsules ripen late in the season, around September, orange in color and popping open to reveal red-orange fruits. Once ripe, they are often harvested by humans for decoration. Birds love them too, helping to disperse their seeds as they feed on them.

Interestingly, bittersweet is primarily dioecious…that’s the fancy, plant term for plants that have male and female flowers on separate plants, like hollies. That means only the female vines produce fruits which is why some vines you come across never do. In the landscape, it is always best to plant one of each to ensure fruit production or plant a self-fertile form like ‘Autumn Revolution’.

One last note. A very similar looking cousin called Oriental Bittersweet should be avoided. This non-native looks almost identical to its North American counterpart, but it tends to be more aggressive and particularly back east, it has become invasive. Stick with our native.