Euonymus atropurpureus (Eastern Wahoo)

Plant Info
Also known as: Burning-bush, Spindle-tree
Family:Celastraceae (Staff-tree)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; average moisture; woodland edges, floodplains, stream banks, river terraces, wooded slopes
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:6 to 20 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Branching clusters of 7 to 15 flowers arising from leaf axils of the lateral branchlets along 1-year-old stems. Flowers are ¼ to 1/3 inch across, maroon to dark reddish-purple, with 4 petals that are somewhat triangular and softly pointed at the tip. In the center is a 4-lobed maroon to purple ovary with a single short, yellow stamen on each lobe and a stubby green style in the center. Behind the flower are 4 short sepals. Stalks and sepals are hairless.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and opposite (or nearly so), 2 to 6 inches long, 1 to 2½ inches wide, generally elliptic, widest at or near the middle, tapering or wedge-shaped at the base, the tip pointed or tapering to a sharp point, sometimes abruptly so, finely toothed around the edges, hairless on the upper surface, finely hairy on the lower. Stalks are ¼ to 2/3 inch long and hairless. Leaves turn yellow in fall.

[photo of striped stem] New branchlets are weakly 4-sided, green and hairless, developing lines of pale, corky tissue along the angles that give it a striped appearance, but eventually fade away. Branches turn brown with age. Buds are cone-shaped with a sharply pointed tip. Bud scars are very light brown, nearly white.

[photo of trunk] Older bark is gray to gray-brown, thin and smooth to slightly rough. Trunks can reach 1½ inches diameter at breast height (dbh). Stems are usually single, branches are few and erect to ascending, the shrub taking on an irregularly shaped crown. Loose colonies may form from long rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a capsule about ½ inch across, initially green, turning pinkish and maturing to red, typically 4-lobed but not all lobes may develop equally. When ripe, the capsule splits open revealing 1 to 4 fleshy, bright red fruits called arils, each containing 2 seeds.


Eastern Wahoo reaches the northern edge of its range in Minnesota. While having a widespread distribution in the southern half of the state, is not commonly encountered nor found in any great abundance. It is easily distinguished when flowering or fruiting. When flowers or fruits are absent, the somewhat sporadic branching combined with opposite, serrated leaves hairy on the underside, and squarish stems, at least some of which should have remnants of the corky lines, should be helpful for an ID.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Falls Creek SNA in Washington County, and her backyard garden. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in various nurseries and private gardens.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Emily A - Upper Sioux Agency State Park - Yellow Medicine County
on: 2016-11-09 13:41:24

We have at least three in the park. One conveniently located right in the middle of the Yellow Medicine Campground (to the west of Site 12)

Posted by: Rick C - Luverne
on: 2017-07-21 16:49:17

Wahoo or wild burning bush grows here along the Rock River. I have transplanted some to my yard around 15-20 years ago. I am interested in any possible uses but I really enjoy the red leaves in the fall and the berries.

Posted by: Dona B - Willmar
on: 2017-07-29 13:02:54

information where to find this shrub

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-07-29 15:52:16

Dona, you can always check the Bell Museum Atlas. Search the Collections for the species name and you'll get a list of where it's been collected in the past. That's not all known locations, but it will give you a starting point.

Posted by: R Christensen - Austin, Mn
on: 2017-11-03 11:34:13

We found 3 in a small wooded area in town while clearing some buckthorn.

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