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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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Sunday - June 08, 2014

From: Lexington, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Vines
Title: Distinguishing native Celastrus scandens from non-native C. Orbiculatus from Lexington MA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Plants, I maintain a wildflower garden with the Lexington Field and Garden Club in Lexington, Massachusetts. Every year, I pull up sprouts of Celastris orbiulatis. I want to plant some Celastris scandens, but I want to be certain I can distinguish between the interloper and the native. I have observed that the roots of the oriental bittersweet are bright orange, unlike anything else in the garden. Are the roots of the native bittersweet similarly orange, or can I use the root color as a distinguishing characteristic? Many thanks for any help you can give me.

ANSWER:

From our Native Plant Database, here is what our webpage says about Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) :

"This native species is being replaced in the Northeast by the more aggressive Asiatic Bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) which has escaped from cultivation. It has flowers and showy scarlet fruit arising from the axils of the leaves."

This article from the Missouri Botanical Garden has more information on the culture of the plant, but no mention of root colors. From Dave's Garden, here is a paragraph describing the difference between the native and the non-native plants:

"Here's how you tell them apart:
American bittersweet produces flowers (and fruits) in single terminal panicles at the tips of the stems; flower panicles and fruit clusters are about as long as the leaves; the leaves are nearly twice as long as wide and are tapered at each end. Oriental bittersweet produces flowers in small axillary clusters that are shorter than the subtending leaves and the leaves are very rounded. Comparing the two, American bittersweet has fewer, larger clusters of fruits whereas Oriental bittersweet is a prolific fruiter with lots and lots of fruit clusters emerging at many points along the stem. Unfortunately, hybrids of the two occur which may make identification more difficult. "

Please read this article from About.com on the subject. This and several other of the articles we read mentioned the problem that the two types of vine are hybridizing with each other and, of course, the hybrids are adopting the worst characteristics of the non-native invasives.

 

From the Image Gallery


American bittersweet
Celastrus scandens

American bittersweet
Celastrus scandens

American bittersweet
Celastrus scandens

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