(Celastrus scandens) Staff-tree family

Flowers - Small, greenish-white, 5-parted, some staminate, some

pistillate only; in terminal compound racemes 4 in. long or less.

Stem: Woody, twining. Leaves: Alternate, oval, tapering, finely

toothed, thin, with a tendency to show white variations. Fruit: A

yellow-orange berry-like capsule, splitting at maturity and

curling back to display the scarlet, pulpy coating of the seeds


Preferred Habitat - Rich soil of thickets, fence rows, and

wayslde tangles.

Flowering Season - June.

Distribution - North Carolina, New Mexico, and far north.

Not to be hung above mirror and picture frames in farmhouse

parlors, as we have been wont to think, do the brilliant clusters

of orange-red wax-work berries attract the eye, where they

brighten old walls, copses, and fence rows in autumn; but to

advertise their charming wares to hungry migrating birds, which

will drop the seeds concealed within the red berry perhaps a

thousand miles away, and so plant new colonies. On the smaller,

less specialized bees and flies the vine depends in June to carry

pollen from its staminate flowers to the fertile ones, whose

thick, erect pistil would wither without fruiting without their


But the best laid plans of other creatures than mice and men

"gang aft a-gley." What mean the little cottony tufts all along

the stems of so very many bittersweet vines, but that these have

foes as well as friends? Curious little parasitic tree-hoppers

(Membracis binotata), which spend their entire lives on the

stems, sucking the juices through their little beaks, just as the

aphids moor themselves to the tender rose-twigs, might be

mistaken for thorns during one of their protective masquerades.

Again they look like diminutive flocks of fowl, their heads ever

pointing in one direction, no matter how the vine may twist and

turn - always toward the top of the branch, that they may the

better siphon the sap down their tiny throats. Toward the end of

summer the females, which have a sharp instrument at the rear of

their bodies, cut deeply into the juicy food-store, the cambium

layer of bark, and there deposit their eggs. Presently, a nest

being filled, the mother emits a substantial froth at the end of

her ovipositor, and proceeds to construct the cottony, corrugated

dome over her nursery which first attracted our attention. This

is especially skilful work, for she works behind her, evidently

not from sight, but from instinct only. Inasmuch as the young

hoppers will not come forth until the following summer, some such

snug protection is required during winter's cold and snows. With

hordes of little parasites constantly preying on its juices, is

it any wonder the vine is often too enfeebled to produce seed, or

that the leaves lose part of their color and become, as we say,

variegated? Occasionally one finds the cottony nursery domes of

this little hopper on the locust tree - the favorite home of its

big, noisy relative, the so-called locust, or cicada.