- Growing a Burning Bush
- Beware of the Giant “Dwarf”
- Care and Feeding
- To Prune or Not to Prune?
- Dwarf-winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alata “Compactus”)
- Invasive In Some Areas
- Burning Bush Growth Requirements
- Burning Bush Plant Care
- Burning Bush Plant Maintenance and Propagation
- Burning Bush Shrub Insects
- Propagating Burning Bush
- Don’t Get Burned by “Burning Bush”
- Learn About The Care Of Burning Bush – How To Grow A Burning Bush Plant
- Burning Bush Growth
- How to Grow a Burning Bush
- Burning Bush Care
- Maryland Grows
- Sterile variety of invasive ‘burning bush’ developed
- Prodigious seed production
- Burning Bush Propagation and Care
Growing a Burning Bush
Article: How To Grow And Care For Burning Bush
March 29, 2011With its stunning autumn foliage and tolerance for neglect, Burning Bush (Euonymus) makes a wonderful ornamental addition to nearly any yard or garden. Here are some tips for growing and caring for burning bush in your landscape.
Beware of the Giant “Dwarf”
Plants labeled ‘dwarf” or “compact” are usually assumed to be smaller versions of the same species. It’s no wonder then, that many gardeners end up surprised by the irony associated with the name Euonymus alata “Compactus”, a.k.a. “Dwarf Burning Bush”. Capable of reaching a mature height and spread of 10 feet by 10 feet, the shrub is not exactly “dwarf” in size. Its namesake, “Dwarf”, actually refers to the fact that the corky ridges found on its bark are much smaller and less distinctive than they are on the Euonymus species form. Good information to have before planting a row of them under your picture window. Advertisement
Care and Feeding
Winged Burning Bush is easy to care for and considered essentially maintenance-free, at least until they outgrow their space. It is this ability to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions and subsequent tolerance for abuse (and pollution) that makes them such popular choices for the urban landscape.
Burning bush prefer to grow in a sunny spot, and in soil that is moist (not wet) and slightly acidic. Fortunately, they also adapt to partial shade, poor soil, dry soil, and the wrong pH, although each of these elements may adversely affect their fall color display.
Things to consider:
- Full sun is needed for burning bush to reach its full color potential.
The rapid breakdown of hardwood mulch around the shrubs may result in a nitrogen deficiency (yellow leaves and slow growth). This can be remedied by yearly applications of fertilizer, or by switching to a mulch that decays more slowly.
Plants benefit from being fertilized annually in the spring before new growth begins. Have your soil tested first to determine existing nutrient levels before starting a fertilizer regime.
Burning bush growing in alkaline soil may develop mild leaf chlorosis (yellowing leaves). Like nitrogen deficiencies, this problem can also be remedied through a yearly application of the right type of fertilizer.
Prolonged stress like an extended summer drought may cause your burning bush to turn color prematurely.
Burning bush is generally trouble-free, but watch out for scale and powdery mildew.
To Prune or Not to Prune?
The answer as to whether or not you should prune your burning bush depends entirely on your individual situation. Healthy growth does not depend on regular pruning, so in most cases, your shrubs will look best if left alone. However, when you need to control their size and shape (and eventually you will), pruning will become necessary.
- Thinning (when convenient): Use pruning shears to remove up to 1/3 of the old or dying branches. This will keep growth manageable – at least for a few years. An alternative is to slowly encourage a more upright, tree-like form by removing all of the lower branches over time.
- Shearing (early spring): Use a hedge clippers to shape multiple bushes growing together into a traditional hedge. Make sure to trim the top slightly narrower than the bottom to allow light to penetrate to all of the branches.
- Rejuvenating (early spring): To encourage all new growth, prune the bush back severely, to within 6 to 12 inches from the ground. Although this type of pruning is extreme, the plant will recover nicely over a period of years (providing its in good health).
- Transplanting: When pruning is no longer a viable option, you might want to consider transplanting the bush to a larger space, or replacing it altogether with something more size appropriate.
Dwarf-winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alata “Compactus”)
Exposure: Sun/partial shade.
Soil: Not super fussy, but does need ample drainage.
Form: Shrub-like; starts with an upright growth habit becoming more rounded with age.
Foliage/bark: 1 to 3-inch long narrow leaves, finely serrated; medium to dark green in summer and turning flaming red (full sun) to pale pink (shade) in the fall. The bark has visible corky ridges on the regular-sized species, but is smaller and less distinctive on the so-named “dwarf” variety.
Flower/fruit: Inconspicuous flowers in late spring/early summer; produces tiny red-orange fruits in the fall that are attractive to wildlife.
Height/spread: Will slowly grow to 8 to 10 feet tall with a spread as wide (“Compactus”); other varieties may be much taller. Euonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag’ is shorter – typically reaching 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
Growth rate: Slow to moderate.
Hardiness: Most varieties are hardy to zone 4.
Invasive In Some Areas
Winged burning bush is native to northeastern Asia and was first introduced in North America as an ornamental plant in the 1860s. Although still considered a popular landscaping shrub, it is considered invasive in certain parts of the United States – especially in some Northeast states and New England.
Winged burning bush can invade a variety of disturbed habitats including forest edges, fields, and roadways. Once established, it can form a dense stand that chokes out native vegetation. Before planting burning bush, check the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States to see if it is considered a threat in your area.
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Homeowners looking for a scintillating burst of bright crimson in their garden or yard won’t have to look very far- the Euonymus alatus, or the Burning Bush plant is the perfect choice!
The name burning bush derives from the plants foliage during fall. Also, people remember the story in the Bible where God appears to Moses using a bush which appeared as it caught fire, but does not burn.
This native plant hails from the genus Euonymus, a group of small trees and deciduous shrubs.
The Burning Bush originally hails from Asia. It’s known by other names such as the Winged Euonymus, the Wahoo and the Winged Spindle Tree.
Burning Bush is most appropriate for describing its brilliant explosion of fiery leaves that show amazingly well in containers, beds and borders. Everyone will love its fall color.
The Burning Bush has several varieties, but most of them fall under two main categories. The Winged Euonymus, or the Euonymus alatus, the older species of the two.
It can grow up to 15 feet tall, towering over the landscape with its uniquely winged bark.
The Euonymus alatus compactus is the second type, only reaching a maximum of 10 feet and its bark is not as winged – as the Euonymus alatus.
The Euonymus alatus has earned its name for bearing stunning foliage of autumn display, whether as a bright ornamental display or a dazzling addition to any garden or landscape. Its fall color serve as a great decor in many outdoor settings.
Six of the Euonymus species can be found in North America. Other native species include Eastern Wahoo (E. atropurpureus), Strawberry bush (E. americanus), and Running Strawberry bush (E. obavatus).
The stem arches openly over with clusters of pointed leaves drooping over from the branches.
Look closer and you’ll see the curious ridges rising from the bushes’ growth, fleetingly disappearing once the stem matures.
Small flowers will grow in between the months of May to June and turn into little bright red berries that catch the attention of the birds.
These birds come in to eat, but they also help scatter the seeds which fall to the ground and become new Burning Bushes.
This plant is hardy enough to survive in almost any soil condition. Level of care is also very low, which makes it appealing to novice gardeners looking to add an easy to plant to their green repertoire.
Burning Bush Growth Requirements
The Burning Bush shrub is rated as hardy and can thrive in zones 4 to 8, becoming one invasive species of plants in warmer zones.
They grow well with their faces exposed to partial shade or full sunlight. As mentioned, you can grow the Burning Bush on almost any suitable soil, even the alkaline ones!
Owners may prepare a sunny spot for which to plant their Burning Bush in. The most optimal soil type is one that is moist and slightly acidic.
Don’t worry too much about the exact nature and water content of your soil. The Euonymus alatus can grow even if the soil is dry, poor, or has the wrong pH level.
They are wonderful plants that can adapt even in partial sunlight locations. Owners looking for the boldest red displays will need to put their plants in contact with direct sunshine.
Shade can slow down their growth and even mute the blazing leaves to faded yellow or pale pink ones.
Like most plants, the Burning Bush can do with a little more water during the summer or in droughts.
Burning Bush Plant Care
Flaming bush care can be summed up in two words- easy and stress-free. It can grow fine in less optimal conditions such as low sunlight and poor soil.
The tough characteristic of this plant makes it a favorite in landscape applications among urban landscapers and homeowners.
There’s virtually no requirement for seeing this drought tolerant plant produce bright-colored, flame-kissed leaves that lighten up the garden!
Just remember to place it where there’s plenty of sunlight and put some fertilizers come springtime to maximize the splendid display.
A compact Burning Bush dwarf is available if you have small spaces or you wish not to trim them too often, or if the tall shrub isn’t a good fit into your landscape.
The “Rudy Haag” is a variation of the Burning Bush shrubs that only grows to a maximum of 5 feet tall, while the Compactus may only grow up to 10 feet in many a year.
Burning Bush Plant Maintenance and Propagation
So, when to trim burning bush?
The speedy growth of the fireball Burning Bush might surprise its owners, as it is a shrub that can outgrow the space where you plant it in.
Though you won’t need to keep a careful eye on the plant, you’ll need to keep it bright and attractive with the occasional burning bush pruning every now and then.
Rejuvenation Pruning In Early Spring
Rejuvenation pruning is what you need to keep the Burning Bushes’ tall size manageable and encourage new growth come spring.
Try to schedule the trimming of stems early spring, just right before the shrub starts producing new leaves.
Use sharp hedge clippers or pruning shears and remove everything except 1 to 3 inches of the Burning Bush from the ground.
Don’t worry because the plant will grow right back and be as vigorous as ever!
Pruning For A More Eye-Catching Shape – Late Winter
Should you need to prune the Burning Bush tree into a more eye-catching shape, do it when the plant is dormant (usually before spring comes or in the late winter) and use sharp hedge clippers or pruning shears for the job.
Get the top a bit more narrow than the bottom for the sunlight to penetrate into the branches.
Start the pruning process and take out any branch that falls outside the picture; remove broken or damaged branches while you’re at it as well.
Burning Bush Shrub Insects
The Burning Bush is a favorite for garden insects and bugs, as well as the rabbits. They can destroy a Burning Bush by chewing all the bark where they can reach it.
This goes the same for stray deer, so you’ll have to keep a close eye on wild animals.
You’ll also need to check for possible fungal spots, mildew, stem diebacks and witches’ brooms on the leaves and remove them as soon as possible.
Use all natural Neem pesticide or horticultural oil sprays to remove scale insects and kill off spider mites off the plant, then scrape and rinse the destructive fungal growth as needed.
Propagating Burning Bush
Burning bush hedge can be rooted from softwood cutting taken in spring. Use a well-drained soil and dip the cutting into a rooting hormone. Roots should begin to form in about 3 weeks.
Propagating From Seed
Propagation is done naturally by birds scattering the seed to the ground. Homeowners can also spread it gathering fresh seeds and prepare soil with half-inch deep gouges during late fall for germination.
You may also start the growth process indoors after keeping them in the refrigerator at about 40 degrees for about 3 months.
Plant seeds in the summer when soil temperatures are warm. Germination should take approximately 5-6 weeks. The seed turns into a beautiful shrub in about 4 years’ time. Those who are less patient may buy their plants from a good local nursery.
Don’t Get Burned by “Burning Bush”
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 4, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Burning bush, presumably named after the burning bush which appeared to Moses, has such bright red fall foliage that it could appear to be on fire. Euonymous alatus is a beautiful addition to the New England fall landscape. Wildlife nest and shelter in its branches and birds and small mammals snack on its bright red berries.
WHAT’S THE REAL STORY, FOLKS?
1. E. alatus is only attractive once a year. The rest of the year it is plain, boring green. True, it can be stunning in the fall. The leaves on mine seem to blow off with the first nasty gust of autumn wind. Other people in New England report having had theirs actually last for one or two weeks.
2. It rapidly outgrows its alotted space. Mine was planted in the 1950s way too close to the foundation and nearly took over the house. Attempts to develop smaller cultivars have had minimal success. Even Euonymus ‘Compacta’ grows to be 6 to 8 feet tall and ‘Little Moses,’ a whopping 8 to 10 feet! Not very “little.”
One worried gardener, KariGrows from Wisconsin, said in PlantFiles, “I just purchased one of these to plant this fall and am disappointed to see your website state it should reach 6-8 feet in height, as the tag said 2-3 feet tall and wide. Also it is supposed to be cold hardy to zone 4 not 6 as you state. So now I am concerned over the success I will have adding this to my zone 4 garden. Does anyone have experience with this particular burning bush, Little Moses?”
3. E. alatus has no known competitors in North America, since it originated in Northeast Asia. It was first imported to New England in the 1860s as an ornamental shrub, and now is ubiquitous, in my area at least. Burning bush is sometimes nibbled on by moose or rabbits, according to PlantFiles reports, but it recovers promptly. Its vendors boast that E. alatus will thrive in any soil except in boggy, moist areas and under any conditions except for deep shade. In fact, however, burning bush has been found to take over from natives even in deep shade as an understory plant, as the picture bottom left illustrates.
One study in Maine (a state which has yet to outlaw burning bush) examined invasive, non-native species as they took over “a tract of land managed as as natural area:” Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), and burning bush. My money would have been on the Norway maple, which is a terrible weed here in the suburbs and cities (where it was planted by city planners). But no, burning bush steadily, over a 50 year period, beat out the other two non-natives. The native plants, which had been there for eons, never even had a chance.
4. It has an excellent dispersal system: roots and berries, birds and mammals, humans and nurseries. People who say “there are none others on my property besides the one I planted, so mine is not spreading,” are forgetting that the reason birds are so important in biodiversity is that they fly. Surely it is possible, at least, that one bush’s berries are being eaten and deposited in a whole different area! Irresponsible nurseries continue to sell and promote E. alatus. “Burning Bush is so adaptable to a variety of soil conditions (ranging from fertile to sterile, organic to clay, acidic to alkaline, rocky to sandy) that it is overused in urban landscapes,” warns the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
5. Banned in Boston, and in fact all of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, E. alatus is illegal to sell, propagate or transport in much of New England already. Although it is common knowledge (or should be) that burning bush is a thug in the Northeast, what the public may not be aware of is that E. alatus has escaped cultivation and is considered invasive in the Midwest and the South as well. The map on the lower right shows states in green where burning bush is naturalized in the wild. (What it doesn’t show is that Ontario, Canada, too, is infested.) However, the laws haven’t stopped nurseries from selling Euonymus alatus nor people from buying and planting it. Of GardenWatchdog vendors selling burning bush, only one notes that they cannot ship to Connecticut.
- 6. There are other bushes with fiery fall foliage which are not quite so aggressive and won’t out-compete the locals. While we wait as the University of Connecticut works to develop a truly sterile cultivar, try these suggested alternatives:
- highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) offers pretty flowers, yummy berries and fall foliage, with many cultivars available.
- redvein enkianthus, Enkianthus campanulatus seems to be a well-behaved visiting plant.
- the New York Times recommends Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica, in the northern edge of its range, noting that “sweetspire can be invasive in the south.”
- fringed bluestar, Amsonia ciliata
- Hubricht’s bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii
- witch-alder, Fothergilla gardenii
- oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia
- fetterbush, Leucothoe racemosa
- swamp haw, Viburnum dentatum
- arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum nudum
- and sumacs!
In New Hampshire they are so adamant about controlling the Euonymus alatus invasion that concerned citizens are actively digging them up. Please don’t plant this ill-mannered guest, ask nurseries you deal with to stop selling it, and if you own a burning bush already (and aren’t willling to dig it up), try to get the berries off before the birds do. Even cutting it back drastically, as I did with mine, means fewer berries to spread. And check out some of these fascinating links!
global invasive species team alert
Learn About The Care Of Burning Bush – How To Grow A Burning Bush Plant
Gardeners who want a burst of crimson color in fall should learn how to grow a burning bush (Euonymus alatus). The plant is from a large group of shrubs and small trees in the genus Euonymous. Native to Asia, this large bush has a natural open form that shows well in borders, beds and even containers. Almost any site and soil condition is sufficient when growing burning bush plants. Care of burning bush is minimal too, which makes the plant an excellent choice for even novice gardeners.
Burning Bush Growth
The arching stems are decorated with clusters of finely pointed leaves that droop appealingly from the branch. The plant is also called winged Euonymous because of the ridges that arise on young burning bush growth. These disappear after the stems mature.
The plant will get tiny flowers in May to June that turn into tiny dangling red berries. Birds eat the berries and inadvertently plant the seeds in your garden. In rich soils, even dropped berries may sprout and become new plants.
You can plant a dwarf
form of the bush in small spaces or to minimize maintenance, especially since the plant’s 15-foot height may be too great for some landscape applications. There are two excellent cultivars, which produce smaller, dwarf forms of this bright Euonymous:
- ‘Rudy Haag’ is a slow growing diminutive form of the bush that will get only 5 feet tall in 15 years.
- ‘Compactus’ is aptly named and may grow 10 feet tall over many years.
How to Grow a Burning Bush
Burning bush grows well in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 8 but can become invasive in the warmer ranges. Burning bush plants may get 9 to 15 feet tall and are suitable for full sun to partial sun locations.
Any soil type, including alkaline, may support burning bush growth. However, when growing burning bush, it’s best to place the shrub in sites with excellent drainage but lightly moist soil.
Burning Bush Care
There is little to know about caring for burning bush, as this plant is versatile and hardy. In fact, no special care of burning bush is required for a splendid color display. The plant produces only on early flush of new growth in spring, so you should apply fertilizer very early to maximize the effect.
Burning bush care also includes occasional pruning to keep the size down and remove any broken or damaged branches. The natural shape of the bush is appealing, so pruning is not necessary, but if you wish to trim the plant, do so in very early spring before leaves appear.
The plant has few pest problems or disease except some foliar fungal issues. Reduce overhead watering to combat fungal problems. Burning bush plants are occasionally susceptible to scale insects. These are scab-like white insects that only move around during the development phase. They are sucking insects that can reduce the vigor of the plant if they are in large populations. Scrape, rinse and control them with horticultural oil sprays or neem oil.
View full sizeMonrovia’Pipsqueak’ burning bush
In fall, the burning bush (
s) turns to flame all over the Portland area. The intense scarlet leaves catch the eye, and the tiny berries attract birds, yet this showy, umbrella-shaped shrub often is not displayed to best effect.
The problem is size. Because the species grows to 10 feet or more tall and wide, gardeners often gravitate to the variety known as ‘
— its name suggests a small, easily controllable bush. But be warned: ‘Compactus’ is anything but compact, growing to 6-10 feet tall and wide — hardly a dwarf.
The ruthless pruning required to fit it into a small garden space often eliminates its natural graceful habit.
Instead, if you want a small burning bush, consider
3-5 feet tall, or ‘Little Moses’ (also known as ‘Odom’) about 3 feet tall.
Already have a burning bush that’s huge and overgrown? Try limbing it up and treating it like a multistemmed tree.
Burning bush can take shade, but it colors up best in full sun. Plant it where you’ll have a good view of it during autumn.
– HGNW staff
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Winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is a Tier 2 invasive plant in Maryland. Photo: C. Carignan
Q: A friend has offered me a sapling of a burning bush. I am a little concerned about it being invasive. Could you please tell me if this is a true concern? Thanks.
Berries of winged burning bush. Photo: C. Carignan
A: Yes, the burning bush shrub, also called winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is considered invasive in Maryland (and many other places) and deserves concern. In fact, this particular species is now regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) as a Tier 2 invasive plant. This classification means that retail stores that offer this plant for sale must display a required sign indicating that it is an invasive plant. Landscapers may not supply burning bushes unless they provide the customer with a list of Tier 2 invasive plants.
Fragrant sumac foliage. Photo: M. Hengemihle
Burning bush is not native to the United States. It produces a lot of berries and most of them fall nearby. A high number of seedlings will sprout and you will have to remove them. That is a nuisance. (Even when one of these plants is removed, berries left in the soil keep germinating for years and years.) But the real danger is when birds spread the berries into natural areas or parks where they do the same thing and there is nothing to stop them. These shrubs start crowding out the native plants that are needed by our native wildlife.
A lot of invasive plants get spread just like a burning bush sapling, because they produce seeds so efficiently. It is good to be cautious about free plants!
Virginia sweetspire foliage (center) turns burgundy to red in the fall. Photo: R. Malloy
For alternatives to burning bushes, consider other shrubs that produce beautiful red fall color. Some choices are:
- Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)
- Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
- Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
- Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.)
- Chokeberry (Aronia sp.)
Be sure to research the growing requirements for these plants to make sure they are appropriate for the conditions in your landscape.
Fothergilla foliage. Photo: D. Clement
Visit the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) website for more information about invasive plants.
By HGIC’s Certified Professional Horticulturists
Have a plant or pest question? University of Maryland Extension’s experts have answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask an Expert.
Blueberry foliage. Photo: M. Hengemihle
Sterile variety of invasive ‘burning bush’ developed
Professor Yi Li’s laboratory in the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has developed a seedless variety of the popular ornamental shrub Euonymus alatus, also called ‘burning bush,’ that retains the plant’s brilliant foliage yet eliminates its ability to spread and invade natural habitats.
“The availability of a triploid seedless, non-invasive variety of burning bush creates a win-win situation for both consumers and commercial nurseries,” says Li, head of UConn’s Transgenic Plant Facility and director of the New England Invasive Plant Center at the Storrs campus. “The bush is an extremely popular ornamental plant for landscapers and gardeners because of its intense red autumn foliage and robust ability to grow in a wide range of soils and environmental conditions. In addition, the plant has very few pest or disease problems.”
Also known as ‘winged euonymus’ because of its distinctive winged branches, burning bush is a top cash crop for the $16 billion ornamental plant industry. It is especially popular in New England and along the eastern seaboard, where the shrub is used for foundation plantings, hedges, and along highways and commercial strips.
National sales of burning bush top tens of millions of dollars each year. The plant, however, spreads aggressively and has been listed as an invasive species in 21 states. It has already been banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and is on an invasive plant ‘watch list’ in many other states, including Connecticut.
$40 billion invasive cost
Winged euonymus (burning bush), introduced to the U.S. in the 1860s, is highly popular with landscapers due to its brilliant leaves in the fall.
The creation of a non-invasive variety of burning bush should help restore the shrub’s prominence in the commercial marketplace.
“This is a big win for everyone,” says Bob Heffernan, executive director of the Connecticut Green Industries Council. “We get to keep selling a popular plant, the public gets to keep using it in their landscapes, and the environment is safe from invasives.”
Professor Max Cheng, a horticultural plant biotechnologist at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, says Li’s success in regenerating a triploid non-invasive burning bush “has great economic and environmental significance.”
“Several universities and laboratories in the U.S. have been working on developing triploid or sterile burning bush for years,” says Cheng. “Endosperm cells of angiosperms are naturally triploid, but regeneration from endosperm cells, particularly from endosperms of woody species, is often very difficult. Dr. Li’s success represents a major breakthrough in developing sterile, non-invasive Euonymus alatus, which is of great importance to the American ornamental horticulture industry and gardeners.”
Mark Sellew, the owner of Prides Corner Farms of Lebanon, Conn., one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the eastern U.S., also praised UConn’s success in developing a sterile variety of burning bush.
“This sterile cultivar of burning bush could not come soon enough,” says Sellew. “This plant is a very important part of my business. We love working with UConn. I think this shows how very important it is for industry and academia to work together.”
Prodigious seed production
The plant produces tens of thousands of seeds that are transported by rainwater and birds to other sites, especially open woodlands, where they create dense thickets that displace native vegetation. The plant’s root system forms a tight mat below the soil surface and its broad profile (it averages 6 to 9 feet in height and is capable of reaching 15 feet) creates heavy shade that threatens the survival of plants living beneath it.
Native to eastern Asia, the deciduous Euonymus alatus was introduced in the United States around 1860. The shrub’s natural ornamental features have been genetically improved over time, giving rise to its widespread popularity. It can be found in the eastern United States from New England to Florida, and as far west as Illinois.
Recognizing the plant’s popularity among consumers and its economic importance to the ornamental plant and landscape industries, Li obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2003 to work on the development of a non-invasive variety of burning bush. The New England Invasive Plant Center has provided additional funding for the research since 2006. The invasive plant center was made possible through the support of Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd District). DeLauro helped secure federal funding to launch the center, which aims to develop strategies and methods to address invasive plant problems.
The new lines of sterile non-invasive burning bush plant—which were derived from a popular dwarf variety known as (E. alatus) ‘Compactus’—took years to develop. Members of Li’s research team, Chandra Thammina, Mingyang He, Litang Lu, and others, painstakingly removed thousands of immature and mature endosperm from deep inside the plant’s seeds under sterile conditions and then treated them with special plant growth regulators. The team carefully maintained endosperm tissue explants in Petri dishes so that a callus, bud, seedling, and ultimately a new triploid seedless variety were grown.
“Finding the right combination of plant growth regulators and repeatedly testing and re-testing the process to validate its success was a lengthy, yet ultimately rewarding, process,” Li says.
The process to produce triploid plants from endosperm tissues is so difficult that since endosperm regeneration of plants was first reported in the early 1950s, it has been successful in only 32 plant species. Li praises his research team’s persistence, dedication, and passion, which, he says, carried his staff through the long hours necessary for separating thousands of mature and immature endosperms once the plants went to seed in the fall.
The research report appears in the August 2011 issue of HortScience, an international journal serving horticulture scientists and the horticulture industry.
The research team reports that it successfully produced 12 independently regenerated triploid plants of burning bush. Triploid plants are sterile due to uneven chromosome division as cells multiply. Li is working with UConn’s Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the process used to regenerate the burning bush triploid and ultimately bring the new plant variety to the commercial horticulture industry.
MARCH-APRIL 2017 – Burning Bush or Winged Euonymus (Euonymus alatus) is yet another good-looking deciduous shrub that can be invasive if given the chance. When you look out into the forests of Connecticut in the fall and see an understory of red-leaved shrubs, they’re probably either burning bush or Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii).
Like Japanese barberry, burning bush is on the state’s invasive plant list but is not banned, presumably because there are some cultivars that are less aggressive.
Both plants are popular and, since they’re not banned, you’ve probably seen them installed in urban landscapes, most often in hedges and mass plantings.
Native to eastern Asia, burning bush has been here since the 1860s and has been widely used as an ornamental because its leaves turn a wonderful scarlet or purplish red in the fall. Hence the common name burning bush. As a result it’s been used in foundation plantings and as a hedge. It’s also routinely planted in commercial settings and along highways.
So, what’s the problem? Burning bush often escapes cultivation and takes over in forests and fields, displacing native shrubs and plants. When it forms dense thickets, the combination of shade and a dense mat of roots makes it difficult for other plants to survive.
It’s a prolific seed producer and the seeds are distributed by birds in their droppings. Dozens of seedlings and root suckers can be found under parent plants.
It’s adaptable to different soil and light conditions and has no major pest problems.
Burning bush is a deciduous shrub with multiple stems that reaches a height of 6-10 feet but can reach 15 feet or more. Its has 1-3 inch long, finely toothed elliptical leaves arranged oppositely in pairs, as are the branches.
Inconspicuous greenish-yellow four-petaled flowers appear in the late spring.
The leaves turn bright red or pink/red in the fall.
A distinguishing feature are the four corky wing-like ridges arranged around young stems. These wings gave the shrub its other common name … winged euonymus.
Note the corky, wing-like ridges around the larger stems.
The fruit is held in a group of pods (normally four). When ripe, the purple fruits split open and expose the bright red-orange seeds.
Purple fruit opens to expose bright red-orange seeds.
Hand-pulling of saplings can be effective as can repeated cutting or mowing. Painting cut stumps with a herbicide also works. Older plants may require the use of tools or heavy equipment. You can cut the them off near the ground and then remove the root system. Cutting off all of the flowers will eliminate seed production.
Saplings of the native sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) can have corky wings but usually two, not four.
Burning bush can also resemble some species of blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) but blueberry leaves are alternate (offset).
If the plant has flowers or seeds, cut them off and bag them.
• American cranberrybush or highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum formerly Viburnum trilobum) for berries
• Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) for modest burgundy color and berries
• Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) for berries and fall color
• Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) for berries and fall color
• Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) for berries
• Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) for winter interest.
Go to cipwg.uconn.edu for more info.
– Will Rowlands
Burning Bush Propagation and Care
Last Updated: May 12, 2015 | by Mike McGroarty
There are a number of different varieties of Burning Bush, but for the most part they fall into two distinct categories. The older variety (euonymus alata) is often called “Winged Euonymus” or “Winged Burning Bush”. This variety can grow to a height of 12 to 15 feet, and the bark is very unique with it’s winged edges.
The more common variety (euonymus alata compacta) only reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet, and the wings on the bark are still quite obvious, but not nearly as pronounced as the winged variety.
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Although it’s not very popular, and now considered invasive in some states, I happen to like the “Winged Burning Bush because the branches are very interesting during the winter.
Look at the above photo, notice how pronounced the wings on the bark are? Kinda cool I think!
Burning Bush is extremely hardy down into zone 3. It’s a great landscape plant that will tolerate full sun, and also does well in partial shade. For the most part this plant is as tough as nails. In all the years I used them landscaping, I don’t know that I ever had to replace one.
However, they are also quite tasty to critters both big and small. Rabbits love them, and will completely destroy them by chewing all the bark off as high as they can reach. Deer will also eat them down to almost nothing.
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Burning Bush are also a favorite of the microscopic pest, the spider mite. Spider mites are little tiny insects that are almost invisible to the naked eye, but once they get on a plant they multiply like crazy. In no time just a few can become 50,000 or more. Spider mites feed off the plant by sucking the nutrients from the leaves, and they can completely defoliate a plant in just a matter of weeks.
Fortunately, the damage usually isn’t permanent, and the spider mites can be controlled with soap and water, or chemical sprays.
To check for spider mites place a sheet of white paper under a branch, the strike the branch with a pencil or a similar object. Examine the paper very carefully, looking for what appear to be specs of dirt that are crawling around on the paper. Those are spider mites.
Burning Bush have an attractive green color all summer long, then in the late summer or fall they turn brilliant red before dropping their leaves. The deep red fall color makes them one of the most popular plants in the business.
Burning Bush are very easy to propagate as softwood cuttings using Intermittent Mist. It takes them about six weeks to root under mist, but once they do they develop a mass of fibrous roots for such a little cutting.
If you don’t have a mist system you can use other methods for softwood cuttings, or you can try some of the hardwood cutting methods for deciduous plants.
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