Bittersweet Vine

Published on November 06, 2014
Written by Becky Rogers

Bittersweet is a woody vine that produces berries in a yellow casing that open up to reveal red berries in the fall. The vines are thin, spindly and have silver to reddish brown bark. The perennial plant can grow up to 60-feet tall and often winds around trees and shrubs in the wild. You can tame the bittersweet vines to grow along a fence for wall.

Bittersweet is native to the United States and grows abundantly in the Appalachians. The plants thrive in the wild where you can find them growing near river banks, on rocky slopes, along the edges of glades, in thickets of bushy undergrowth and in wooded areas.  

Common D├ęcor Ideas

The twists of the vine and the bright yellow and orange colors make for a beautiful display in fall decorations. They are pliable and bend easily to suit your design. Pick bittersweet to use in flower arrangements. Gather a bunch to display in a basket, or twisted in large cylinders with water for floating candles. I especially like bittersweet paired with white pumpkin for a different look.

Decorations made from bittersweet root are best suited to cooler rooms because when they get too warm, the berries drop off and can stain your floors, tablecloths and clothing. Ideally, you should cut the vines while the berries are still green. Once the colors turn red, the berries fall off easily when you move and bend them.

Precautions

While the vines are beautiful and representative of the changing seasons, the plant is invasive and can destroy other ornamental growth and take over any area in which it’s thriving. Although bright and useful in decorations, you must take precautions when handling the lovely native plants – they also pose a number of risks.

  1. The leaves and berries on the plant are poisonous. Be sure to keep them away from pets and children. Birds, however, don’t seem to be affected as they enjoy the fruits in season.
  2. Some people rely on the stems for medicine, making it into a mixture called bittersweet nightshade. It’s sometimes used to treat skin conditions, as a pain reliever for arthritis and as s sedative, but there is little information available about its efficacy. German health officials have approved bittersweet nightshade for external use only.
  3. Children have died from ingesting bittersweet berries. Symptoms of bittersweet poisoning include dizziness, trouble speaking, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea.
  4. Don’t take risks of complications by handling bittersweet vines if you are pregnant or nursing.
  5. Because of its tendency to leave stains, wear work clothes, gloves, and be mindful about placement of the vine while working with it.
  6. The vine is easy to grow but difficult to manage – it has indeed earned its name -- bittersweet. It can be invasive and not recommended for your garden. The vine can get so heavy that it takes over and breaks trees and limbs.

Other Uses

The bittersweet vine used alone can be constructed into a free form autumn wreath or used with various decorations for other holiday wreaths and floral accents. Wrap the colorful vine around a mantel garland or through a metal candle-holder. Place a vine loosely down the center of a table.

Because it is so hearty and ubiquitous, bittersweet vines provide protection for small animals in the woods. In addition to birds, squirrels, rabbits, voles, grouse, and other rodents eat bittersweet. Other common names for bittersweet are climbing vines, false bittersweet, climbing orange root, fever twig, fever twitch, and Jacobs-ladder. The scientific names for the plant are Celastrus Loeseneri or C. Rosthornianus.

Picture credits: Wild vine - Forums.gardenweb.com, Pumpkin Picture - Midwestliving.com, Candle Picture - Blogs.lowellsun.com, Wreath Picture - farmgirlbloggers.com