The bittersweet vines have a way of draping themselves all over the trees and bushes of their chosen sandy woods, yet they remain conspicuous during most of the year. The flowers are produced in long clusters of five-petaled blossoms, the stami-nate on one vine, the pistillate on another, the latter fertilized by pollen carried by insects from the staminate blossoms. Staminate vines never bear fruit even though they may flower abundantly.
Celastrus scandens L.
May. Bottomland woods, sand woods, roadsides.
All summer the dark green leaves of the bittersweet vines conceal the growing clusters of green fruits.- The woody vines grow a little longer, twine a little more firmly around trees and bushes, and advance toward autumn ripening. They do this inconspicuously as the corky layer forms between leaf and stem where the leaf joins the woody part. This does not permit water to enter the leaf while plant starches in it are changed to sugar and are carried away to be stored in the woody stem and roots. Now as September comes, the bittersweet leaves grow pale green, translucent green-yellow, and they drop easily from the vines. A frost brings them down in a sudden shower.
Now the woody vines are brilliant with great masses of orange seeds. The yellow-orange seed-pods split three ways to reveal seeds enclosed in orange-scarlet, wrinkled flesh.
Bittersweet in autumn is eagerly gathered by people who come to the woods and sometimes unwisely tear down old vines which will require many years to reach their former abundant fruiting. Fruits which remain are even more eagerly garnered by cardinals and late robins and others which live during the winter in Illinois woods.