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Bittersweet / Celastrus

Bittersweet *can* be tamed! This is an extremely vigorous, healthy, plant showing splendid yellow leaves in autumn, and is often used for high greening, as there is less pruning to be done than with wisteria or silver lace vine. Celastrus makes an ornamental addition in the garden, i.e. on a pergola. The fruit will feed birds in winter.

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Celastrus orbiculatus:  bittersweet, Chinese bittersweet, Asian bittersweet, round-leaved bittersweet

Celastsrus scandens: bittersweet, American bittersweet

Bittersweet "Celastrus orbiculatus"
Bittersweet "Celastrus orbiculatus"

To Thrive...

Bittersweet needs a sunny (full sun) to semi-shaded location; it can be grown in the shade, but will produce fewer flowers and fruit. Best in nutrient-rich soil. Distance between plants: 1.5 - 4 metres.

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Characteristics and Pruning

These are vigorous twiners with sturdy stem formation. Celastrus orbiculatus from China is the more common variety. It has a strong growth with broad oval, dentate or serrate, and clearly acuminate leaves. Celastrus scandens from North America has oval, acuminate leaves with undulating margins. There are several other varieties that resemble each other and the mini-kiwi. Foliage from May to October, yellow autumn colouring. Has inconspicuous, pale-green flowers, mostly dioecious (male and female on separate plants). In order to get the decorative berries, it is best to plant several specimens together. Prune once a year to handle its very fast growth, especially in the first 6 - 12 years.

Climbing Aids for the Facade

The climbing support should be sturdy... even old trees will do the trick. Lightning conductors, downpipes, roof gutters, etc.. should not be accessible by the shoots, and any trellis supports (brackets / mounts) should have a distance of at least 1.5 m from all such structures and to the roof gutters -- to the side as well as to the top. Wire rope systems (see chart at the bottom) are suitable if the ropes are arranged parallel to each other as they are with wisteria: the shoots must therefore not be wrapped around the cable for long... if it 'chokes' the wire rope, the anchor screws may be torn out of the wall and the cable deformed. Choose a heavy or massive trellis system.


Suitable wire rope trellises?

Click on the picture to see the table of all compatible trellis designs.

Photo Gallery

Examples of Celastrus / Bittersweet

High facade greening with celastrus on a trellis in autumn
Bittersweet on a trellis
Celastrus scandens on a wooden trellis
Small bittersweet on a facade
Greening with bittersweet on a special construct
Greened winter garden
Small bittersweet on a house
Celastrus orbiculatus as a twining vine on a sculpture. Otto Niemeyer-Holstein Garden in Lüttenort / Usedem / Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Two bittersweets in autumn
Celastri are strong twiners; they are vigorous enough to tear a trellis out of the wall if the shoots strangle the wires, as in this picture (winter).
This celastrus wasn't pruned: he left the trellis and grows on this downpipe. This should never happen!

Botanical Features

Here you can see several species of bittersweet: the flowers, autumn colouring, and fruits.

Celastrus orbiculatus with a debut of autumnal colouring
Celastrus flagellaris
Celastrus scandens (North America) and its elongagted, oval, pointed leaves
Bittersweet with yellow leaves
The fruit stays after the leaves have been shed
The berries will provide food for birds in winter

Wire Rope Trellises for Bittersweet

Please click on the graphic for more details!

 = suitable        = sometimes suitable      = not suitable