Thursday, December 13, 2018

American Bittersweet

This is American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, a native plant that is becoming increasingly rare in this area.  Thirty years ago, I used to find many fruit covered vines like this one.  It’s been over 15 years since I’ve seen a fruiting bittersweet vine at Blue Jay Barrens. I’ve seen young vines that have persisted for a couple of years before disappearing and now it seems that one of those has matured to the point of producing fruit.  Maybe the American Bittersweet is coming back.

I don’t know why this once common plant suddenly vanished from the landscape.  In just a couple of years, dozens of thriving vines suddenly dried up and died.  Some blame an exotic invasive relative of outcompeting the native species, but I’ve yet to see the invasive vine anywhere near here.  This newly discovered individual has penetrated nearly 18 feet into a White Pine.  I hope it can manage to stay healthy.

The vine is about one inch in diameter at the base, so it has to have been growing here for a few years.

In early November I harvested some of the fruit, hoping I might be able to produce a few new vines.

When I checked the vine today, all of the fruit had been consumed by birds.

All that was left were the sections of the orange colored capsules that had once protected the fruit as it developed.

I found several seeds and fruit skins that had made the quick journey through a bird’s gut.  Flesh of the fruit is digested, but seeds and skins pass through with little visible effect.  In most cases the bird’s digestive juices will soften the seed coat and allow for rapid germination in the spring.  I collected a handful of this processed seed and will see if germination is noticeably greater than seed taken straight from the vine.  Maybe I can help American Bittersweet make a comeback here.