Good Food and Cover

Climbing Bittersweet – Celastrus scandens


Shrub or vine climbing to 50 feet.


Brown to tan, smooth.


Deciduous, alternate, simple, 2 to 4 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide. Glossy green in summer, greenish-yellow in autumn.


May-June. Small, greenish-white, inconspicuous.


Bright yellow or orange globose capsules between 1/3 and ½ inch in diameter, opening in autumn displaying showy scarlet seed coat. Persists into winter.

West Virginia Range

Probably in every county, more common west of the mountains.

Natural Habitat

Moist thickets and along fencerows and streams usually in rich soil.

Wildlife Use

Fruits eaten by songbirds, ruffed grouse, pheasant, bobwhite and fox squirrel. Cottontails eat twigs and bark. Old fruits are eaten as survival foods by many birds and animals in late winter.


Uses: Often planted as an ornamental vine for the showy fruits. A good climber on trellises, arbors, porches. Fast growing.
Light: Partial to full sun. Best fruit in full sun.
Soil Moisture: Dry tomoist.
Soil pH: Acid to neutral.
Problems: Can kill shrubs and small trees by girdling. Euonymin in leaves and fruit have poisoned horses.

Compiled by Katharine B. Gregg, professor of biology, West Virginia Wesleyan College Buckhannon, West Virginia .

Written by West Virginia Native Plant Society members and jointly published with the WV Wildlife Diversity Program