Perennial woody vine 6 - 9 m long Stem: green to tan or brown, climbing by winding around a support (twining). Leaves: alternate, stalked, dark glossy green, 5 - 10 cm long, 2.5 - 5 cm wide, egg-shaped to oblong or elliptic with a wedge-shaped to rounded base and a pointed tip, finely toothed. Leaves turn greenish yellow to yellow in fall. Flowers: male, female or bisexual, borne in 5 - 10 cm clusters at ends of stems, yellowish white, five-petaled. Fruit: a three-lobed capsule borne in hanging clusters of six to twenty at ends of stems. Each capsule is orange to yellow, less than 1 cm wide, spherical, and splits into three parts. Each part contains one or two persistent seeds with a bright red covering (aril). Bark: light brown, smooth, peeling in thin layers with age.
Similar species: Celastrus orbiculata has smaller fruit clusters that form in the leaf axils and leaves that are similar in length and width.
Flowering: late May to late June
Habitat and ecology: Locally common in woods, thickets, shrub zones of Lake Michigan foredunes, sandy black oak savannas, and rocky and sloping woods.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: This fast-growing vine is used in landscapes to climb trellises, trees, and rocks. However, as a tree ages and its diameter increases, the vines wrapped around the trunk may strangle the tree by preventing sap flow. Fruiting stems of C. scandens are sold by florists for use in arrangements. Many bird species and some small mammals eat the fruit, which are poisonous to humans.
Etymology: Celastrus comes from the Greek name for an evergreen tree, kelastrus. Scandens comes from the Latin word for climbing, referring to its habit.
Climbing to several m; lvs elliptic to oblong or ovate, acuminate, 5-10 cm; panicles terminal, 3-8 cm; frs orange, several in a cluster, nearly 1 cm; seeds ellipsoid, 6 mm, covered by the bright red aril; 2n=46. Road-sides and thickets, usually in rich soil; Que. and Ont. to Man. and Wyo., s. to w. S.C., n. Ga., e. Ala., La., and Tex. May, June.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.