This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Small, greenish-white, 5-parted, some staminate, some pistillate only; in terminal compound racemes 4 in. long or less. Stem: Woody, twining. Leaves: Alternate, oval, tapering, finely toothed, thin, with a tendency to show white variations. Fruit: A yellow-orange berry-like capsule, splitting at maturity and curling back to display the scarlet, pulpy coating of the seeds within.
Preferred Habitat - Rich soil of thickets, fence rows, and wayside tangles.
Flowering Season - June.
Distribution - North Carolina, New Mexico, and far north.
Not to be hung above mirror and picture frames in farmhouse parlors, as we have been wont to think, do the brilliant clusters of orange-red wax-work berries attract the eye, where they brighten old walls, copses, and fence rows in autumn; but to advertise their charming wares to hungry migrating birds, which will drop the seeds concealed within the red berry perhaps a thousand miles away, and so plant new colonies. On the smaller, less specialized bees and flies the vine depends in June to carry pollen from its staminate flowers to the fertile ones, whose thick, erect pistil would wither without fruiting without their help.
But the best laid plans of other creatures than mice and men "gang aft a-gley." What mean the little cottony tufts all along the stems of so very many bittersweet vines, but that these have foes as well as friends? Curious little parasitic tree-hoppers (Membracis binotata), which spend their entire lives on the stems, sucking the juices through their little beaks, just as the aphides moor themselves to the tender rose-twigs (p. 99), might be mistaken for thorns during one of their protective masquerades. Again they look like diminutive flocks of fowl, their heads ever pointing in one direction, no matter how the vine may twist and turn - always toward the top of the branch, that they may the better siphon the sap down their tiny throats. Toward the end of summer the females, which have a sharp instrument at the rear of their bodies, cut deeply into the juicy food-store, the cambium layer of bark, and there deposit their eggs. Presently, a nest being filled, the mother emits a substantial froth at the end of her ovipositor, and proceeds to construct the cottony, corrugated dome over her nursery which first attracted our attention. This is especially skilful work, for she works behind her, evidently not from sight, but from instinct only. Inasmuch as the young hoppers will not come forth until the following summer, some such snug protection is required during winter's cold and snows. With hordes of little parasites constantly preying on its juices, is it any wonder the vine is often too enfeebled to produce seed, or that the leaves lose part of their color and become, as we say, variegated? Occasionally one finds the cottony nursery domes of this little hopper on the locust tree - the favorite home of its big, noisy relative, the so-called locust, or cicada.