Burning Bush? Please reconsider!



As early as mid-October and continuing through much of November, it’s ubiquitous throughout the northeastern USA. This time of year we can’t help but remark at the brilliant, intensely-red foliage of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and its cultivars punctuating countless home landscapes, clustered in colonies alongside our roadways, peppering open fields, and spreading into the woods. In this region it often forms dense thickets in more heavily-wooded locations, where its fall color is a more-muted pink.

Burning bush has been among the most popular and least expensive of any shrub to grow; it tolerates shearing, neglect and abuse, and stays attractive even with minimal care, so homeowners have planted it with abandon. Pest-free and with few predators, it has a fibrous root system that thrives even in dry conditions, establishing readily in most any soil. Over the decades burning bush and its cultivars have been so widely planted that it seems like the “ideal” choice for your yard—but let’s not jump to conclusions!

Native to Asia, the species grows to about 15 ft. high and wide, each stem adorned with prominent corky “wings”, and it spreads aggressively as birds consume and “replant” its orange-purple seeds. Its most common cultivar is ‘Compacta’, a slower and slightly-smaller-growing shrub with less-pronounced stem-ridges, but much more brilliant scarlet-red fall foliage. Showing only bare stems in winter, its clean dark green summer leaves vary in timing their color change, depending upon soil, sun and moisture conditions.

Introduced to the USA in the mid-19th century, burning bush and its progeny have taken many decades to escape, but they’ve now become naturalized just about wherever we go throughout the northeast. Only in recent years has it unmistakably become a thug, increasingly establishing thickets that dominate and choke-out native plants, even spreading into undisturbed natural areas. Massachusetts and several other northeastern states have now deemed Euonymus alatus and its cultivars “invasive” and prohibit selling and planting the species.

Because it is now such a widely-dispersed species, eradication of all plants is not feasible, so we can expect be seeing its brilliant fall colors for many years to come. But for the sustainable landscape, here are some less-aggressive alternatives with similar features, readily available at garden centers:

No legislation or regulation currently requires homeowners and landowners to remove burning bush from their property. But you can do your part for environmental correctness by pulling-out unwanted seedlings as they appear before they become mature and produce seed of their own.

Share this post

Plant Notes

Managing Earwigs and Slugs

Earwigs, slugs and snails require humid, damp habitats for shelter and reproduction. They hide during the day, and then come out to feed and scavenge at night. In New England,

Read More »
Plant Notes

Perennials for July Color

By the time July comes around summer is in full swing, and the choice of perennials that could be highlighted is large, so to compile a short list means I

Read More »

Pollinator’s World

June is pollinator month in Massachusetts and the third week in June is also National Pollinator Week.  Making a space that is pollinator friendly can involve planting a variety of

Read More »
Plant Notes

Japanese Beetle

The Japanese beetle is an invasive insect native to Japan. It was introduced to the United States in New Jersey in 1916. Since then, it has spread widely throughout most

Read More »
Plant Notes

Lily Leaf Beetle

If you grow lilies, then be well aware of the lily leaf beetle, its life cycle, and how to manage this pest. Lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii) is known to

Read More »