Culture: Easily grown in most soils. Best in lean to average soils with regular moisture in full sun. Lean soils help restrain growth. Will grow in part shade, but needs full sun for best flowering and subsequent fruit display. Prune in late winter to early spring. Mature vines require little pruning other than removal of dead or excess growth. Vines may be grown on structures or allowed to ramble along the ground. It is generally best to avoid growing vines up small trees or through shrubs because vines grow rapidly and can girdle trunks and branches causing damage and sometimes death. Vines sucker at the roots to form large colonies in the wild. Vines will also self-seed, often with assistance from local bird populations.
Noteworthy Characteristics: American bittersweet is a deciduous twining woody vine that is best known for its showy red berries that brighten up fall and winter landscapes. This species is native to central and eastern North America including Missouri. In Missouri, bittersweet is typically found in woodland areas, thickets, rocky slopes, bluffs, glade peripheries and along fence rows throughout the State (Steyermark). It is often seen growing along the ground, over and through low shrubs or circling trees in the wild. Berry-laden branches are prized for use as indoor decorations, and collection of the branches in the wild has significantly reduced the wild populations in some areas. Rapidly grows to 20′. It produces serrate, elliptic to ovate, yellowish-green leaves (to 4″ long). Staminate and pistillate flowers appear in clusters on separate plants in late spring. Flowers are greenish-white to yellow. Fertilized female flowers give way in summer to spherical orange-yellow fruits. Fruits split open in fall to reveal scarlet fleshy berry-like seeds (arils). Fruits are poisonous if ingested, but are considered to be quite tasty by many birds. In the 1700s, plants were given the name bittersweet by European colonists because their fruits purportedly resembled in appearance the fruits of a Eurasian nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) that was known to them as bittersweet. The common name of false bittersweet also came to be used for the within species to distinguish it from the Eruasian nightshade. Zones 3 to 8.
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