The American bittersweet, now with bright orange berries and yellow leaves, is a native vine found throughout most of Minnesota on woodland margins and in brushy thickets. Formerly common, it's now scarce because motorists stop to harvest the branches in the fall.
Bittersweet has neither tendrils nor aerial roots, but climbs by twining its entire stem around the trunk of a tree or fence post. The fruit is an orange capsule that opens to display a cluster of brilliant red-orange seeds, each with a fleshy covering. These seeds hang on through winter — or until birds such as wild turkeys, robins, or bluebirds eat them.
American bittersweet has become a popular planting on garden fences and is often used in holiday decorations, but in order to produce the colorful fruits, both male and female forms must be planted.
Some other observations:
- Enjoy the color-splashed landscape featuring fantastic reds on sugar maples and sumacs. Oct. 8 a year ago was the overall fall color peak for all of the Twin Cities and area, plus west to Green Lake at Spicer, and south to St. Peter and Faribault.
Along the North Shore of Lake Superior, fall color persists with the golden-yellow leaves of paper birches and quaking aspens and the bright red leaves of pin cherries and bush honeysuckles.
- Migrating white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos are visiting feeding stations, announcing that cold weather is on the way. Expect a big push for American robins, blue jays and northern flickers migrating through southern Minnesota, where much combining of soybeans and corn is happening. The sugar beet harvest is in full swing in south-central and western Minnesota. In our cool bogs of the north, and in Wisconsin, too, wild cranberry fruit is ripe.
- Moose are in their rutting season Up North, where snowshoe hares will begin to turn from brown to white, and black bears usually head for their winter dens by Oct. 24.
Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.