The horticultural industry is an important source of invasive ornamental plant species, which is part of the motivation for an increased emphasis on using native alternatives. We were interested in the possibility that plants marketed in the midwestern United States as the native Celastrus scandens, or American bittersweet, were actually the difficult-to-distinguish invasive Celastrus orbiculatus (oriental bittersweet) or hybrids of the two species. We used nuclear microsatellite DNA loci to compare the genetic identities of 34 plants from 11 vendors with reference plants from wild populations of known species identity. We found that 18 samples (53%) were mislabeled, and 7 of the 11 vendors sold mislabeled plants. Mislabeled plants were more likely to be purchased through Internet or phone order shipments and were significantly less expensive than accurately labeled plants. Vendors marketed mislabeled plants under five different cultivar names, as well as unnamed strains. Additionally, the most common native cultivar, ‘Autumn Revolution,’ displays reproductive characteristics that diverge from the typical C. scandens, which could be of some concern. The lower price and abundance of mislabeled invasive plants introduces incentives for consumers to unknowingly contribute to the spread of C. orbiculatus. Revealing the potential sources of C. orbiculatus is critical for controlling further spread of the invasive vine and limiting its impact on C. scandens populations.
Nomenclature American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens L. oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb