How to Identify and Remove Oriental Bittersweet

A Vicious Invasive that You Need to Control Before It Takes over

Oriental bittersweet weed vines with small green berries and light green leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

It’s not surprising that florists and arts and crafts folks like to add the vines of oriental bittersweet to wreaths and other autumn decorations—the glossy leaves and orange berries on twining woody stems are stunning. The Asian native was imported in the 1860s as an ornamental landscape plant but has long since escaped the bounds of domesticity. This perennial vine is one of the worst invasive plants on North American soil. It’s a highly aggressive climber that spreads quickly, rapidly overgrowing anything in its vicinity, and killing even large trees. If oriental bittersweet is not controlled, it will result in a monoculture, smothering everything else around it.

Bittersweet it toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.

Common name Oriental bittersweet, Chinese bittersweet, Asian bittersweet, Asiatic bittersweet, round-leaved bittersweet
Botanical Name Celastrus orbiculatus 
Plant Type Perennial, vine
Mature Size 60-100 ft. tall
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, silt
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Green, yellow
Hardiness Zones 4-8 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets
Oriental bittersweet vine branches with light green leaves and tiny yellow flower buds

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Oriental bittersweet vines with round leaves climbing tree trunk

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Oriental bittersweet twisted woody vines closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Oriental Bittersweet Invasiveness


Oriental bittersweet, which is spreading rapidly in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, chokes out and kills any other vegetation in several different ways. The vines completely overgrow other plants, so they won’t get any sunlight, air, or water.

Oriental bittersweet produces an abundance of berries that the birds eat and thereby spread the invasive plant further through their droppings. The seeds remain in the bird's stomach for several weeks, which leads to the spreading of oriental bittersweet far away from its original location. On top of it, oriental bittersweet has a very high germination rate of 95%. Oriental bittersweet also spreads by underground roots.

What Does Oriental Bittersweet Look Like?

Oriental bittersweet is a deciduous, woody vine that can easily reach up to 100 feet. The glossy alternate leaves are round, finely toothed, and round or oval in shape with pointed tips.

In May or June, small, greenish yellow, five-petaled flowers appear in the leaf axils. The green berries ripen to a bright yellowish-orange in the fall, and the leaves turn yellow. The berries usually remain on the vine throughout the winter, often serving as an emergency food for birds which then spread the seeds further.

The woody vines, which can reach up to 4 inches in diameter, coil arounds trees, shrubs, and any other support, including manmade structures. The roots of oriental bittersweet are deep and have a characteristic bright orange color.

How to Get Rid of Oriental Bittersweet

Small vines can be pulled by hand. Make sure to remove the entire root because bittersweet can regrow from root segments. Dispose of the vines in the garbage, or leave them on a manmade surface such as driveway, tarp or deck in full sun for a day or two to kill the roots.

If the vine is larger, and already entangled with the tree, cut the stem at the base and immediately brush the cut with glyphosate concentrate. Note that to be effective, this must be done during the growing season. Then carefully pull the vines out of the tree. If the vines are wrapped around the tree trunk or branches, removal is often not possible without causing damage to the tree. In that case, cut the vines out of the tree in pieces. In areas that are too high to reach, just leave the vines; they will die and shrivel over time.

After you have treated the cut surface with glyphosate, inspect the stump from time to time to make sure that it does not regrow new shoots. If fresh growth is detected, reapply the herbicide as needed.

How to Tell the Difference Between Oriental vs. American Bittersweet

Not all bittersweet is evil. There is also American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), which is a highly desirable native plant. American bittersweet occurs naturally in the central and eastern United States except in Florida. Consider yourself lucky when a native bittersweet plant pops up in your garden.

Unlike oriental bittersweet, American bittersweet has smooth stems and oblong leaves. Another way to distinguish between American and oriental bittersweet is by the location of the berries: the berries of American bittersweet appear at the tips of the vines only, while those of oriental bittersweet grow along the vine.

Unfortunately, American bittersweet is becoming increasingly rare. Further endangering it is the fact that oriental bittersweet sometimes hybridizes with the native species.

Oriental bittersweet vines with round light green leaves hanging
Oriental Bittersweet

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

American bittersweet vines with yellow and green round leaves hanging with small red berries in between
American Bittersweet

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

  • Where is oriental bittersweet native to?

    It is native to China, Japan, and Korea and was introduced in the 1860s as an ornamental and erosion control plant.

  • Where does oriental bittersweet grow?

    Oriental bittersweet grows in full sun as well as shade, and in many locations, including meadows and grasslands, woods and woodland edges, along roadsides, and even on dunes and beaches.

  • Does oriental bittersweet kill trees?

    Yes, the strong vines girdle so tightly around the stems of trees that they are being strangled. As the vines grow, their sheer weight breaks or uproots the tree.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Oriental Bittersweet. MSU Extension Website

  2. Toxic Plants. University of California.

  3. American Bittersweet. ASPCA.

  4. Oriental Bittersweet. Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States.