Beware of the Burning Bush!

This beautiful fall shrub spreads like butter on toast.

There are very few positive things I will ever say about a species of Euonymus. Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is a good example. Also called winged euonymus for the corky ridges on its twigs, it sports the most blazing red fall foliage of any shrub I know. That's why people brought it here from China and Japan in the 1860s. Alas, it liked its new home much too much. It's now considered an invasive weed in more than 20 states.

To be sure, it isn't a problem yet in warmer parts of the South. Its conquered territory mainly extends from USDA Zone 4 to 7. I have never observed mobs of it here in north-central Alabama, but as Dr. Ian Malcolm observed in Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way."

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus)
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The straight species grows huge – easily 15 feet tall and wide. Although I've seen it used effectively when pruned into a single-trunk small tree, it's generally too big for residential landscapes. A smaller version, 'Compactus,' grows about half this size and is popular for hedges and seasonal color accents.

Burning bush spreads by way of reddish-orange seeds that birds eat. They're hard to see until the leaves drop in autumn. Because the shrub tolerates a wide range of growing conditions – sun or shade and almost any well-drained soil – seedlings aren't picky about where they sprout. They don't threaten maintained yards, but when they escape to fields and woods, they can form impenetrable thickets that crowd out native plants.

If you wonder whether burning bush is a problem where you live, consult your state agricultural extension service. Head off a headache before it starts.

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