Maybe the reason so many people mistakenly call euonymus anonymous plants is that they can be hard to recognizethe evergreen and deciduous kinds look nothing alike. The colorful seed capsules common to both provide the only obvious hint that they're related. Deciduous types are valued for their brilliant fall leaf color or showy fruit. Evergreen typeswhich include some of the most cold-hardy, broad-leafed evergreensare employed as hedges, screens, and foundation plants. Foliage is quite variable in shape, but leaves of most are pointed-oval to lance-shaped. Most species tolerate either sun or shade, but deciduous types need sun for good fall color. Scale is a likely problem on any euonymus; treat with horticultural oil.
E. alatus. WINGED EUONYMUS, BURNING BUSH. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native of China and Japan. Though nursery tags may indicate a much smaller plant, the species can reach 1520 ft. high and wide. This plant is quite dense, twiggy, and flat topped, with horizontal branching; if lower limbs are removed, it makes an attractive, vase-shaped, small tree. Young twigs have flat, corky wings; these disappear on older growth. Fruit is smaller and less profuse than that of E. europaeus, but fall color is impressive: The dark green, 3-in.-long leaves turn flaming red (or pink, in shade). Best autumn color comes in Upper and Middle South. 'Compactus', a smaller plant (grows 610 ft. high and wide) with smaller corky wings, isn't quite as hardy. 'Little Moses' is smaller still, just 2123 ft. high and slightly wider, with particularly long-lasting fall color. 'FireBall' is compact to 57 ft. high, with bright red fall color. 'Rudy Haag' is a dense grower to just 45 ft. tall and wide, with rose-to-red fall color.
Species E. alatus and its selections take sun or shade. Group them as a screen, or plant them singly against dark evergreen plants for the greatest color impact. Compact selections make excellent unclipped hedges or foundation plants. Note that birds spread the seeds all over, and E. alatus is considered an invasive pest in parts of the Upper and Middle South.
E. americanus. HEART'S-A-BUSTIN', STRAWBERRY BUSH. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to eastern and southern U.S. Many-stemmed, suckering, well-behaved shrub that deserves wider use. To 6 ft. tall and broad, with green stems clothed in medium green, 3-in.-long leaves that turn pale yellowish pink in fall. Showy scarlet fruit about in. wide opens in September and October to reveal purple interiors and bright orange seeds. Stems hold their green color all winter. Tolerates much shade; use in woodland plantings.
E. europaeus. SPINDLE TREE. Deciduous shrub or tree. Zone US, MS; USDA 6-7. From Europe and western Asia. Eventually grows as tall as 30 ft.; narrow when young, becoming rounded with age. Dark green leaves to 3 in. long; fall color varies from yellowish green to yellow to red. Profuse, 34-in.-wide fruit is the ornamental feature: four-chambered, pink-to-red capsules that open to reveal bright orange seeds. Very prone to scale. 'Aldenham' ('Aldenhamensis') bears large pink capsules on long stems; 'Red Cascade' has rosy red capsules. Full sun or partial shade.
E. fortunei. WINTERCREEPER EUONYMUS. Evergreen vine or shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to China. One of the best broad-leafed evergreens where temperatures drop below 0F. Trails or climbs by rootlets. Use prostrate forms to control erosion. Rich dark green, 1- to 2-in.-long leaves with scallop-toothed edges; round white or pinkish fruit just in. wide. Mature growth is shrubby and bears fruit; cuttings taken from this shrubby wood produce upright plants. Sun or shade.
The selections of E. fortunei, several of which are listed here, are better known than the species itself. Many garden centers still sell them as forms of E.radicans, which was once thought to be the species but is now considered to be a botanical variety (see E. f. radicans). Use restraint when considering the variegated forms; gaudy foliage can be overpowering.
'Blondy'. Neat, mounding growth to about 2 ft. high, 3 ft. wide; golden yellow leaves have irregular green edges.
'Canadale Gold'. Compact growth to 4 ft. high, 33 ft. wide, with light green, yellow-edged leaves.
'Coloratus'. PURPLE-LEAF WINTER CREEPER. To 2 ft. high, 68 ft. wide. Same sprawling growth habit as E. f. radicans but makes a more even ground cover. Leaves turn dark purple in fall and winter.
'Emerald Gaiety'. To 45 ft. high, 3 ft. wide. Dense-growing, erect shrub with deep green leaves edged in white.
'Emerald 'n Gold'. Similar to 'Emerald Gaiety', but with gold-edged leaves.
'Golden Prince'. To 4 ft. high and wide. New growth tipped gold. Older leaves turn green. Extremely hardy; good hedge plant.
'Green Lane'. To 34 ft. high, 45 ft. wide, with erect branches, deep green foliage, orange fruit in fall.
'Ivory Jade'. Resembles 'Green Lane' but has creamy white leaf margins that show pink tints in cold weather.
'Minimus'. DWARF WINTER CREEPER. Tiny green leaves (14 in.) spaced close together make a fine-textured ground cover or a trailing plant in a container.
'Moonshadow'. To 3 ft. high, 5 ft. wide. Bright yellow leaves with dark green margins.
'Sunspot'. To 36 ft. high and wide; dark green leaves have a central bright yellow spot.
E. f. radicans. COMMON WINTER CREEPER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. A tough, hardy, trailing or vining shrub with dark green, thick-textured, 1-in.-long leaves. Given no support, it's a sprawling, foot-high ground cover. Roots as it spreads. Given a masonry wall to cover, it does the job completely. Sun or shade.
E. japonicus. JAPANESE EUONYMUS. Evergreen shrub. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Japanese native grows upright to 810 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, but it's usually held lower by pruning or shearing. Older shrubs are attractive trained as trees, pruned and shaped to show their curving trunks and umbrella-shaped tops. Can be grouped to form a hedge or screen. Very glossy, leathery leaves are deep green, 12 in. long, oval to roundish.
The species and its selections are very tolerant of heat, unfavorable soil, and seacoast conditions, but they're pest prone and susceptible to scale, thrips, and spider mites. Plants are notorious for powdery mildew; place in full-sun location with good air circulation to avoid it.
Variegated forms are most popular; they are among the few shrubs that keep variegation in full sun in hot-summer climates. Their garish foliage is hard to work into the landscape, however, and often becomes an eyesore. Some confusion exists in plant labeling of variegated types.
'Aureomarginatus'. GOLDEN EUONYMUS. To 510 ft. tall and 35 ft. wide. Gaudy, bright golden foliage nearly glows in the dark. Extremely popular; extremely overplanted. Often reverts to solid green.
'Chollipo'. Narrow, erect plant to 12 ft. tall, half as wide. Green leaves bordered with white. Dense grower; good for topiary.
'Grandifolius'. To 68 ft. tall, 46 ft. wide. Plants sold under this name have shiny, dark green leaves that are larger than those of the species. Compact, well branched; good for shearing into pyramids, globes.
'Green Spire'. Columnar, to 68 ft. tall and only 12 ft. wide. Lustrous, dark green leaves. Excellent as a narrow hedge.
'Microphyllus' (E. j. microphyllus). BOX-LEAF EUONYMUS. Compact and small leafed, 12 ft. tall and half as wide. Formal looking; usually trimmed as low hedge. Similar in form are 'Microphyllus Butterscotch' ('Microphyllus Aureovariegatus'), with yellow-variegated leaves, and 'Microphyllus Variegatus' ('Microphyllus Albovariegatus'), with leaves splashed in white.
'Ovatus Aureus' ('Aureovariegatus'). GOLDSPOT EUONYMUS. To 10 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Leaves have brilliant yellow blotches, green edges.
'Silver King'. To 6 ft. tall and about half as wide. Green leaves with silvery white edges.
'Silver Princess'. Like 'Microphyllus Variegatus' but larger (to 3 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide), with larger leaves.
'Silver Queen'. Similar to 'Silver King', but green leaves are edged in creamy white.
E. kiautschovicus. SPREADING EUONYMUS. Evergreen shrub. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From China. To 8 ft. high and as wide or wider, with some low branches trailing on the ground and rooting. Light green, relatively thin-textured leaves to 3 in. long; profuse tiny, greenish cream owers in late summer. Bees and flies swarm the plant when it is in bloom, so it is not a good choice for planting near porches, terraces, or walkways. Flowers are followed by conspicuous pink to reddish fruit with red seeds. Two hybrids make good hedges: 'DuPont', a 4- to 6-ft.-high plant with large, dark green leaves; and 'Manhattan', an upright grower to 68 ft., with dark, glossy leaves. Scale is a serious problem on all forms. Full sun or partial shade.