Updated: Feb 12, 2020
The Oriental Bittersweet is a strong growing deciduous vine native to China, Korea and Japan. It is a woody vine whose stems are slender usually 1-3 cm thick, that can grow as thickets or can climb trees. It has alternate round leaves, small green inconspicuous flowers followed by tiny green fruits. The fruits ripen to a yellow-orange and burst open to show its beautiful red seeds just after it has a flush of lemon yellow autumn coloured leaves. It is used in Indian and Chinese Herbal Medicine and is used as a general nervous and stress tonic, in India, it is called a 'Malkangani.'
Size and Styles: Bittersweet make delicate small bonsai in clumps and cascade styles. They are cherished for their show winter fruits. In Japan, many specimens Mame and Shohin Bittersweet bonsai are found.
Position: Bittersweet grows and flowers best a bright sunny spot. It is a very hardy species and will tolerate extreme cold, but best to protect bonsai in a cold greenhouse if temperatures fall below -4°C, as otherwise, it may suffer from die-back. To ensure fruit production, plant a male and a female tree together.
Watering: Needs a fair amount of water, especially before fruit production. Leaves can be severely damaged by drought. In winter, reduce watering accordingly, so as not to waterlog the pot.
Feeding: Feed every two weeks from the end of flowering until Autumn. Use a balanced organic fertiliser. If using a slow-release pelleted feed begin in March, and replenish every two months. If applying a liquid feed do so every second week between March and October.
Repotting: Repot every couple of years in Spring after flowering. Use a well-draining, rich, organic bonsai mix. Use leaf-mould or bark and loam and sharp sand in equal parts. Alternatively, you can use Akadama and pumice in the ration of 2 to 1.
Pruning: Flowers appear on old wood and shoots can be pruned back from late Spring to Autumn. Lets stalks extend fully before pruning back to leave three active nodes or later shoots.
Wiring: Styling and shaping is best carried out with the clip and grow method. Use bending jack or tourniquets to move branches into place if more massive styling is needed, best avoid any form of wiring.