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Photo taken in Baird Creek Parkway

The fruits of American Bittersweet are the most striking character of this species, being comprised of a bright orange capsule which splits open at maturity (late September or early October in northeastern Wisconsin) to expose the bright pink inner structure shown above. The pink structure is comprised of several fleshy "arils", each of which contains a seed. The seeds (up to 8 per fruit, but often fewer) are reported to be poisonous. This is a species that does not go unnoticed, but the fruits may be high enough to frustrate the attempts of observers to see them up close. As they near maturity they appear to be bright orange berries, but as the capsules split open and the pieces curl back they appear much different and might well be mistaken as two different species by the casual observer. Bittersweet is dioecious: plants are either male or female, and only the female plants bear fruit.

American bittersweet is a native vine that can grow in a wide variety of habitats, but is most common in fencerows, along roadsides and other open sites. It sometimes grows in forests where it often climbs into the canopy to get enough light. Stems can grow to an inch in diameter and sometimes the plants can assume the growth form of a weak shrub, the two forms occasionally found together. It is found throughout the state, although it appears to be more common in the sourthern portions.


Gleason, Henry A. and Arthur Cronquist 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, New York.

Voss, Edward G.1985. Michigan Flora. Part II. Dicots (Saururaceae - Cornaceae). Cranbrook Institute of Science. Bulletin 59.

Text and photos contributed by Gary Fewless

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Last updated on May 12, 2014