When the bittersweet vine Autumn Revolution (Celastrus scandens ‘Bailumn’) hit the market in 2009, a bitter bittersweet battle that’s been brewing for years got a little better. (Some background: the bad guy, invasive Oriental bittersweet, is choking out the good guy, American bittersweet, in the eastern United States.)
Autumn Revolution gives American bittersweet a leg up because it carries “perfect” flowers (meaning they have male and female parts). This means that, unlike the species, just one vine can produce fruit. Greenish-white to yellow flowers become large, gorgeous fruits that split in autumn to reveal red seeds inside orange husks.
Common name: Bittersweet, American bittersweet, staff vine
Botanical name: Celastrus scandens ‘Bailumn’
Plant type: Perennial vine
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 15 to 25 feet
• Sun: Full sun.
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to lean
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Remove dead and damaged branches in early spring.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed and cuttings
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to euonymus scale insects and treehoppers.
• Powdery mildew and leaf spots can be problems.
• The main thing to remember about bittersweet is to get the species right. Do not plant Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), because it is invasive in several states. Do plant American bittersweet (C. scandens), which grows fast and has berries that are just as showy as the invasive species—if not more so.
• f you plant Autumn Revolution, a cultivar of American bittersweet, you only need one plant to get berries. If you plant the species, C. scandens, you need a male and a female plant.
• Bittersweet fruit is tasty to birds, but poisonous to humans.
• Gardeners often use bittersweet as a climber—to cover fences, walls, arbors, or trellises—but it’s also a good ground cover. It will scramble easily over gravel piles, tree stumps, and other low-lying objects.
• Don’t train bittersweet to grow up a tree or shrub, as it is strong enough to girdle a trunk and cause severe damage or even death.
All in the family
• Most of the plants in Celastraceae, the bittersweet family, are tropical. The bittersweet vine is an exception, as are some of the species in the genus Euonymus, such as the invasive shrub known as burning bush (E. alatus) and its native, noninvasive look-alike, Eastern wahoo (E. atropurpureus).
• The genus Celastrus contains about 30 species of shrubs and climbers. They’re found worldwide.
Where to buy
• Moonshine Designs Nursery, Milan, IL, 309-756-1967, www.djroger.com
• Spring Valley Roses, Spring Valley, WI, 715-778-4481, www.springvalleyroses.com
(Photo of Celastrus scandens ‘Bailumn’ courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)