Thursday, April 23, 2009
This beautiful indigenous plant of Missouri is found in numerous habitats throughout the state. Seems it will grow most anywhere, but it does prefer sunlight. In June the female plant will have small greenish-white blooms all over it, the male plant will have smaller more insignificant blooms. In order for the female to produce berries there must be a male plant nearby. In the fall is when you will find the deep orangish-yellow berries that later open up to reveal a gorgeous dark orange center. Many people have used these berries in decorating and for various different crafting projects for many many years. Because of over use of the plant it is far from common in Missouri. The one pictured was photographed near Happy Holler Conservation Area. It was entwined on a fence. The berries of the bittersweet are considered poisonous, although not fatally so, you would spend many an uncomfortable hour in your bathroom wishing you might die. So do not eat the berries!!! Birds on the other hand suffer no ill effects, they seem to like the berries very much, especially songbirds, pheasants and bobwhite quail. Squirrels will also dine on these berries. Many nurseries sell American Bittersweet (Celastrus Scandens), and I would suggest possibly planting this vine in your yard somewhere, rather than disturbing and destroying the already low numbers of this native plant. If you choose to plant Bittersweet vine, plant it away from young trees, its climbing habit could choke the tree and stress it or ultimately kill it. Instead plant it near a heavy duty trellis or by a light pole. Then you will be able to enjoy the full effect of this vine, from the greenish-white blooms in the late spring, to beautiful fall foliage and berries. Be careful though, there is another non-native version of this plant. It is called Oriental Bittersweet. It is showing itself in the Midwest now, and it's much more aggressive and fast growing than our native American Bittersweet. From what I have read, one way to tell the difference between the two is the juxtaposition of the berries on the stems. American Bittersweet will have the berries located at the ends of the stems, whereas Oriental Bittersweet will have them distributed down the stem near the leaf projections. Seems the Oriental variety also has some thorn-like projections on the stems. Some cross-pollination may occur where their populations overlap. These are one of the most beautiful fall color shows in Missouri.