Celastrus orbiculatus


Celastrus: From the Greek kelastros, an evergreen tree.

Common Name(s)

climbing spindleberry; oriental bittersweet


Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb.



Brief Description

Hairless woody vine, deciduous with bright gold leaves in autumn; leaves alternate, serrate; flowers inconspicuous, green; fruit globose, 3-valved, yellow when ripe then splitting to reveal bright red arils surrounding the seeds. Reputedly, all parts are poisonous.

Flora Category

Vascular - Exotic

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Lianes and Related Trailing Plants


Terrestrial. This aggressive, perennial, woody vine climbs on rocks and trees and sometimes covers the ground and vegetation (Hutchison 2000).


Deciduous, hairless climber to 12 m high. Roots suckering. Stems round, woody, greyish-brown, layering. Young twigs green, often with sharp 1-2 mm spines. Leaves alternate, roundish, 5-10 cm long, finely serrated, yellowing before falling. Flowers insignificant, pale green. Seed capsule round, 6-8 mm diameter, yellow to orange, exposing scarlet arils. "Flowers are small, greenish-yellow, and usually become unisexual by abortion or reduction of male or female parts, thus the plants are usually dioecious. Occasional vines develop both unisexual and perfect flowers and are then termed polygamo-dioecious. Another reported variation is occasional monoecious plants, i.e. with both male and female flowers on the same vine." http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/species.php?sc=156

Similar Taxa

The deciduous foliage is most evident in evergreen canopies in autumn when it turns golden yellow. Celastrus is closely related to Euonymus, but can be separated by the alternate leaves. Also similar is Maytenus boaria, but this species lacks petioles on the leaves.



Flower Colours


Year Naturalised



NE temp Asia (Japan, Korea, China)

Reason for Introduction

Ornamental - the flexible stems are used to make wreaths.

Life Cycle and Dispersal

Seedlings can appear far from parent plants as seed is spread by birds. Most often seen in disturbed sites - forest edges and gaps, scrub or road sides.


Cold-tolerant in New Zealand, growing wild, e.g. near Taihape, Taupo, Turangi.

Reason For Introduction

Life Cycle Comments

This species spreads vegetatively by underground roots that form new stems. Also reproduces via seed (Hutchison 2000).

Shade tolerant and seedlings may stay suppressed for some time before release by disturbance (Hutchison 2000).

This page last updated on 17 May 2017