I Hate Oriental bittersweet aka Celastrus orbiculatus

Dec 7, 2019 | Gardens

Name: Oriental bittersweet – aka Celastrus orbiculatus aka Chinese bittersweet or round-leaf bittersweet

Type of Plant: A vine that has round or oval leaves and orange roots. This plant was brought to this country in the 1800’s as an ornamental vine because it has pretty orange and red berries in the fall. But it’s become invasive in most of North America.

 Why I Love/Hate this plant: This is one of the plants that make up what I call the “Cape Cod jungle.” Birds eat the seeds and then poop them far and wide. Look under trees and shrubs in most Cape landscapes and you’ll find small bittersweet vines…maybe even large ones. The vines twine around stems and trunks of trees and can kill those plants. They also scramble over the tops of desirable plants, forming a canopy so thick that the support plant dies from lack of sunshine.

A Word to the Wise: No, picking the berries for fall decorating doesn’t help spread this invasive plant…if anything, any berry you can prevent a bird from eating is a seed that won’t get planted. So feel free to cut these vines either for fall décor or to use the twined stems on wreaths at this time of year.

But be on the lookout for young bittersweet plants under your trees and shrubs, as well as in your gardens. Go on “bittersweet patrol” at least once a month and pull them up or cut larger ones off at ground level. (Yes, it will come back from the roots. But if you assiduously chopping it off, which for larger plants is faster and easier than pulling or digging, you’ll eventually starve the root system.) May The Force be with you!

Learn to recognize the young bittersweet plants. They are easy to pull when young, and you’ll find several growing in your yard where birds have “planted” them.

In wild areas on Cape Cod bittersweet is part of the “jungle” of invasive plants. It frequently grows with honeysuckle (flowering here in the bottom center of photograph), Rosa multiflora, and other bird-planted thugs. Top arrow  points to the bittersweet leaves and the bottom to the tiny bittersweet flowers.

This is the fall display of orange berries that seduced people to bring this plant to North America in the first place. If you look closely at this photo you’ll also see the rose hips of Rosa multiflora, and the pink and orange fruit of the spindle bush, Euonymus europaeus. 



  1. Jolie Bonnette

    I share your hatred. I discovered that what I thought was some sort of shrub in the far corner of our back yard was actually just a small part of a massive colony the goes through the bracken behind our back yard a way and then does a crazy turn to drop another root base in the neighbor’s yard. These things are so huge in places that it’s no longer a vine. It’s become as thick as a small tree and has almost killed most of the trees beyond our fence.

    What makes it more insidious is it doesn’t really need the birds to take over a fairly large area. Its roots will pop up sprouts, too. That’s how I track the massive roots these things spread a lot of the time. This monster has been sucking up all the nutrition from the fertilized yard for at least ten years if not more. so it’s very healthy. When I realized it’s invasive, I began tearing it out because it was trying to use our newly installed fence as a support and had loosened nails where it was prying at the boards and beams. The very extensive roots will grow in all manner of directions, looping,,backtracking and just shooting off in random directions. I’ve pulled up thick ropes of root that were easily 10-12ft long. They are pliable and whiplike. It’s a shame the plant is invasive because when you cut the roots it actually has a fairly pleasant earthy woody odor similar to sandalwood..

    I have the worst invasive trio ever to deal with in the yard: Oriental Bittersweet, Greenbriar and Virginia Creeper. They all grow those horrendously long roots that you have to get out to even have a ghost of a chance of killing them.. I’ve almost defeated the creepers after about 3 years of constant cut and pull. Greenbriar seems to be coming back weaker every time I cull it now. I only started on the bittersweet this year, so no idea how lond that’ll take to kill off. I did note a huge swath of it in the bracken seems to have sickened and started to fall off the trees after I tore out the big clump in our yard. So there may yet be hope.

    • CL Fornari

      I too struggle with the three you mention plus the Rosa multiflora! Keep up the fight and may The Force be with you!

    • Zach

      I have spent the better part of 5 months and counting, clearing out the backend of my property. I have removed numerous “Tree – of – Heaven” trees, which are terrible plants. They constantly resprout and stink horribly (smells similar to old cashews). I have removed many red cedars, smaller trees of varying species, been pricked many times by Rosa Multiflora and greenbriars leaving painful splinters behind, have had my legs covered with poison ivy rash again and again, and have painstakingly removed honeysuckle drenched in sweat from the hot and humid summers of northern Virginia.

      But nothing and I mean nothing compares to the devil incarnate of a plant like oriental bittersweet. I have had more back sores and spasms removing these disgusting and vile weeds than I can think of. Just realized today that the last part of this area I need to clear out is heavily infested with this garbage plant and I am dreading it. I hate this plant with every fiber of my being!!! Absolutely hate it!!!

  2. Ryan

    OH MAN!!! My back aches from doing battle (also on Cape) with this thing. Appreciate knowing where it came from. I had assumed someone had planted it…but the bird thing makes sense. I’d add that despite HOURS and HOURS of pulling this stuff, it comes back. And I am wondering if a tree in the side yard that I’ve cut down TWICE and yet has grown multiple trunks back (and is currently) 20 feet tall (in just a couple of years) is actually bittersweet. I’ve never seen the trunks grown straight…only snake like. But if you know if it’s possible to look like a three pronged tree (where the original trunk was probably 6″ diameter)…please let me know. Thanks for your blog.

    • CL Fornari

      You probably also have Rosa multiflora…another one that the birds plant on the Cape. Not to mention poison ivy… May The Force be with you!

    • Zach

      It sounds like a Tree – of – Heaven. They will resprout with multiple shoots around the stump left behind and also along its roots after you cut them down.

      We have them all over the place in Virginia but I don’t know if they grow further north or not. If what you are talking about has compound leaves and gives off a bad odor, then you probably have a Tree – of – Heaven. They are tough to get rid of and you have to be hypervigilant about cutting off resprouts.

      Then again, without knowing more about the description of this tree, I am guessing. Hope this helps


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