Looking around the fall landscape in my drives around Connecticut, I see lots of fiery-red Burning Bush ( Euonymus atlatus), not only in people’s yards but also in the understory of the woods. The ones in the yards were purposely planted, but the ones in the woods were inadvertently planted by birds and animals that eat the seeds of the plants in the yards, then pooped out in the woods where they grew vigorously. Very many seeds are produced each year with the seed having a very high viability rate. As a result, many new plants are growing and spreading, displacing the native plants that should be growing in the forests. Deer will not eat Euonymus atlatus as a food source nor will many other native foraging animals that would normally keep a plant’s growth under control. Breeders are working to develop varieties that produce sterile seed or no seed at all.
Burning Bush is also commonly called Winged Euonymus because its stem grows prominent corky lateral “wings” of tissue on sides twigs. Euonymus atlatus has been around the United Stated since 1860, brought from its native growing region of Asia and China, for its vibrant-red fall leaf color. We do have native plants that will provide a similar red fall color without the invasive tendencies.
Below are listed a few native alternatives to the troublesome Burning Bush.
Highbush Blueberry – Vaccinium corymbosum – develops a wonderful red color in the fall and has the added benefit of giving delicious fruit during the summer. Netting may be needed to keep the birds from taking your crop of berries.
Highbush Blueberry in fall, fcps.edu
Fothergilla, Fothergilla gardenii, F. major – has white flowers in April to May and wonderful scarlet, orange and yellowy fall color. Great in mass plantings or as a foundation planting.
Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia– Pale yellow to golden brown describes the fall color, not red but a striking plant instead of burning bush. July and August will give white sweet-scented flowers.
– Carol Quish