‘Autumn Revolution’ Bittersweet – An Improvement of a Beloved Native Vine
By Dave Schreier
We are often asked by our customers how to tell the difference between a male and female bittersweet vine, since only female vines produce the colorful fall berries. The answer we give is often unsatisfactory since few gardeners want to wait three years until the plants are old enough to bloom to see which vines produce berries. When our customers hear the disappointing answer, we take the opportunity to show them a “revolution” in American Bittersweet breeding. Bailey Nurseries in Newport, Minnesota, has developed a new variety of bittersweet (Celastrus scandens ‘Bailumn’) and given it the name ‘Autumn Revolution’ that produces both male and female plants and flowers. ‘Autumn Revolution’ produces an exceptional amount of fruit with berries twice the size of the species. Our customers are surprised to see the small one gallon containers we sell with plants already producing berries.
American Bittersweet is a native of our northern forests and is an old but still popular favorite vine. It is a high-climbing twiner that matures to 25 feet or more and it winter hardy to ̵ 50º. It has rich green foliage and the stems thicken year by year and should be grown on a strong support. The plant produces a panicle shaped flower that blooms in June. The orange-red fruit ripens as the leaves fall off usually after the first hard frost in October. The berries can last all winter even when they are brought into the house to be used as decorations.
American Bittersweet can be grown in full sun or light shade (4 to 6 hours of light) and adapts to any well-drained soil. It is most effective and least troublesome if grown on sturdy fences or arbors or encouraged to clamber over rock outcrops, brick walls, or embankments. The mature plants can be pruned in early spring.