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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Wednesday - May 29, 2013

From: Pendleton, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany, Propagation, Vines
Title: Blooming but not berrying American bittersweet from Pendleton IN
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have had a bittersweet plant for years, it blooms but not berries. How do I tell if it is male or female so I can buy the opposite? It is currently blooming.

ANSWER:

As you can see from this USDA Plant Profile, Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) is native to Madison County. We always check that first because the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants evolved. This helps to ensure that they are in the right soils, climate and rainfall for that particular plant.

From a website on this plant from the Missouri Botanical Garden, we picked up this information:

"These plants are primarily dioecious (separate male and female plants), although some have a few perfect flowers. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce the attractive fruit that is the signature of this vine. Unfortunately, some nurseries do not sell the vines as male or female."

This means you can't tell if the plant is male or female because both flower. If it is female, obviously you don't have a male within flying distance of the bee pollinators, or it would already be fruiting.

We did considerable looking, but there is apparently no way for the lay person to tell if the plant is male or female and most nursery personnel don't know, either. If you go to a nursery and buy a fruiting plant, it may have been a female artificially pollinated by the nursery that grew it, and not berry again in your garden the next year due to the lack of male pollinators. Because of the sales appeal of fruiting vines, most of what is for sale is female. Sorry.

 

From the Image Gallery


Silver beard grass
Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana

American bittersweet
Celastrus scandens

American bittersweet
Celastrus scandens

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