The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Celastraceae – The Bittersweet Family or Staff-Tree Family

- June 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

The Celastraceae consists of about 60 genera (10 native to the U.S.) and 850 species of trees, shrubs and often woody climbers. The leaves are simple (not compound), most commonly are alternately attached to their branches, but sometimes are oppositely attached. They are not lobed, can be either membranous or leathery, deciduous or evergreen, and usually have tiny, early falling stipules.1

The flowers are small, often inconspicuous, greenish or whitish or rarely purplish, radially symmetrical2, and either perfect (bisexual) or less often unisexual, and are distributed in cymes3 or in tight bundles or clusters (fascicles). There are 3-5 sepals4, usually 3-5 petals (Occasionally none), 3 to 5 stamens5 (occasionally 10) all inserted on or below the margin of the disc.6 There are 2 to 5 united carpels7 partially sunken in the disc and the ovary is superior.8

Depending on the species, the fruits are berries9, drupes, samaras, loculicidal capsules, or indehiscent capsules. The seeds are often covered with a brightly colored aril.10

Several members of the family are cultivated as ornamentals[2,5,19]

American bittersweet, Climbing bittersweet, bourreau des arbres,

célastre grimpant

Scientific name: Celastrus scandens

Origin: Native to North America

Plant description: Celastrus scandens can be either dioecious11 or polygamodioecious.[15] Without a support to grow upon, the species grows close to the ground, but with support it can become a twining vine that can climb poles or trees etc. to heights of 30 ft (~9.1 m).

The leaves are alternately placed, dark green, ovate12 to ovate-lanceolate, finely serrate13 and about 4 inches long and turn yellow in the fall, before dropping.

The flowers are greenish and are placed in terminal racemes14 or panicles that are generally about 4 inches long. The flowers have 5 petals, the male flowers have 5 stamens that are about as long as the petals and the pistil is vestigial. The female flowers have vestigial stamens, a well developed ovary with 3 cells, each with 1 or 2 ovules, a stout style15 and a 3-lobed stigma.16

The fruits hang several in a cluster with each fruit about 1 cm long and composed of 3 orange valves17, which separate at maturity to reveal 1 or 2 approximately 6 mm elliptical seeds, each completely enclosed in a red aril.18 The fruits open with the frosts.[4, 5, 11, 20, 23]
Distribution: Voss and Reznicek[23], writing about Michigan plants state that the species is found on shores and dunes, in thickets, along streams and rivers, roadsides, fence rows, on rock outcroppings, slopes formed by rock debris and dry to moist forests as well as on open ground. McGregor[11], writing about the Great Plains, presents a similar description: “Frequent in woodlands, rocky hillsides, thickets, fence rows and roadsides” Ramsay[17], writing about Canadian honey plants, writes it is found in thickets, river banks and woods.

Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist[4], writing about Northeastern U. S. and contiguous parts of Canada, provides a blooming period of “May, June”. Ramsay[17], writing about Canada provides a range of July–September. McGregor[11], writing about the flora of the Great Plains, states that it blooms May-July.

Importance as a honey plant:
 There seems to be …