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Published In: Species Plantarum 1: 196. 1753. (1 May 1753) (Sp. Pl.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 8/11/2017)
Acceptance : Accepted
Project Data     (Last Modified On 8/10/2009)


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1. Celastrus L.

(Hou, 1955)

Plants twining lianas, incompletely or rarely completely dioecious, sometimes spreading by stolons and root suckers. Stems 1–20 m or more long, the branches circular in cross-section, not winged. Leaves alternate, deciduous, short-petiolate. Leaf blades variable in shape (even on the same plant), the margins finely toothed. Inflorescences axillary or terminal clusters, sometimes appearing as short racemes or small panicles. Flowers usually imperfect. Sepals 5. Petals 5. Staminate flowers with 5 stamens, these inserted under the margin of the often lobed nectar disk, the filaments 1.5–2.0 mm long. Pistillate flowers with minute staminodes, the ovary usually with 3 locules and 2 ovules per locule. Style short, stout, the stigma deeply 3-lobed. Fruits more or less globose, 3-lobed, orange to yellow, dehiscent by 3 valves. Seeds 4–5 mm long, ovoid to ellipsoid, 3–6, each enclosed in a fleshy red to orangish red aril. About 30 species, North America to South America, Asia to Australia, Madagascar.

This genus is closely related to the large pantropical genus Maytenus Molina (Hou, 1955). The sexuality of the flowers is variable. Some individuals have only staminate flowers and never produce fruit, some have pistillate flowers with abortive stamens, and some are mostly unisexual but produce a few perfect flowers. Birds are attracted to and eat the bright red arillate seeds, but these are poisonous to humans. The boiled bark has a sweet flavor and was used as a famine food by various Indian tribes (Dillingham, 1907). The fruits of bittersweet commonly are used in wreaths and other winter decorations.

In his original description of the genus, Linnaeus (1753) treated Celastrus as masculine and used the -us ending for the species name C. orbiculatus. However, the classical Greek root for the generic epithet is feminine, and many of the species names have been spelled inconsistently in the botanical literature. Paclt (1998a) made a formal proposal to conserve the name Celastrus as feminine, but the Committee for Spermatophyta of the International Association of Plant Taxonomy, which must approve such proposals before they can be voted upon at an International Botanical Congress, chose to table this proposal until a later date (Brummitt, 2000), and no formal ruling on the proper gender of the name has been published to date. As this situation is identical to that found in Euonymus (see below) and in that case the committee did rule against changing the original usage of Linnaeus from masculine to feminine, the name Celastrus is here treated as masculine.


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1 1. Leaves often obovate to suborbicular; flowers in axillary clusters of 2–4; mature fruits with the valves yellow ... 1. C. ORBICULATUS

Celastrus orbiculatus
2 1. Leaves more or less elliptic; flowers numerous in terminal clusters; mature fruits with the valves orange ... 2. C. SCANDENS Celastrus scandens
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