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Plant Profile: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)

Euonymous alata burning bush largeThe bright red color of these shrubs in the fall says it all! Nothing heralds fall more loudly and beautifully than these wonderful bushes that can be planted as a formal or informal hedge, specimen plant, foundation planting, or at water’s edge for their fantastic reflection (but they will not tolerate wet feet.).  Also called spindle tree and winged euonymus, burning bush is a deciduous shrub native to China, Japan and Korea and a member of the bittersweet family, Celastraceae. It grows up to 8′ tall and has stems with corky appendages when mature and elliptic to obovate, toothed leaves up to 3″ long.  The inconspicuous spring flowers are yellowish green and give way to small red fruits that are  1.3″ long and ripen in the fall.  When the capsules open tiny seeds with fleshy orange-red  arils (outgrowths) appear and are attractive to some birds.   Burning bush has been a very popular plant but is considered an invasive species in some areas.    The genus name, Euonymus, is the Latin word meaning ‘of good name’ referring irronically to its being poisonous to animals.  The specific epithet, alatus, is the Latin word meaning winged, and refers to the appendages on the mature stems.

Type: Deciduous shrub.

Outstanding Features: Corky appendages on stems; brilliant red foliage in fall.

Form: Upright, vase shaped growth habit when young but spreading horizontally, and becoming layered when mature if not pruned.

Growth Rate: Slow

Bloom: Inconspicuous.

Size: 8’ H x 8’ W.

Light: Full sun to full shade but best color in full sun

Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils, but tolerates poor soils, compacted soils, various soil pHs but not wet feet.

Fertilizer: Apply a general fertilizer in spring (especially important in regard to avoiding/controlling scale.) Alternatively, apply a mulch such as pine, Cyprus or cedar that does not deplete soil nitrogen.

Hardiness: Zones 3-9

Care: Low maintenance

Pests and Diseases: Powdery mildew, scale

Propagation: Rooted stem cutting and seeds.

Alternative Selections: The species, varieties. and cultivars are available; in general, the larger the shrub the less the corkiness on the stems. Varieties also vary in compactness and hardiness.

Comments: Shrubs are slow growing and very tolerant of pruning so can be kept at a desirable size.

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