On the walking trail a few weeks ago, some orange berries in clusters caught my eyes. I was keeping an eye on the plants. This week, as I took another trail, I noticed the same type of berries, this time some yellow and some red. So I decided on a close inspection and to do a little research on the plant. The vertical woody creeper is a Bittersweet plant.
There are two common species of this plant: one is Oriental/Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) another one is American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens).
The oriental bittersweet is native to Asia, which is a hardy plant and can adopt to various habitats. The growth habit and adaptability has caused the oriental bittersweet an invasive in North America. They compete with the native plant species, choking other flora of the forest.
American bittersweet is native to North America. To set fruit on a female, we need both male and female plants. Some cultivars are self-pollinating. Both the species in wild can hybridize easily.
This woody climbing plant bears orange fruit in fall. The first thought that came to my mind is a Christmas decoration. As the weather gets colder, the orange husk/capsule on the fruit burst open, leaving the bright red fruit a treat for wildlife. All parts of bittersweet are poisonous to humans and pets.
It is also difficult to differentiate these species apart. One easy method I have found after some research is: if it forms the fruits along the length of the stem, it is an oriental bittersweet. If the plant forms fruits as clusters at the terminal end, then it is an American bittersweet.
Regardless of species, birds and other wildlife eat the berries of both varieties.
Here are some pictures of the oriental and american bittersweet that I clicked around my neighborhood.