Euonymus alatus (Winged Burning-bush)
|Also known as:||Winged Euonymus, Winged Spindle-tree|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun; disturbed soil; woods, thickets, fields, yards, gardens|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||6 to 12 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Branching clusters arising from leaf axils of the lateral branchlets along 1-year-old stems, with 3 stalked flowers at the tip of each cluster branch. Flowers are ¼ to 1/3 inch across, pale yellow to greenish with 4 rounded petals. In the center is a disc-shaped green ovary surrounded by 4 short, yellow stamens. Behind the flower are 4 short sepals. Stalks and sepals are hairless.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple and opposite or nearly so, 1 to 3 inches long, ¾ to 1½ inches wide, somewhat variable in shape but usually widest at or above the middle, tapering or wedge-shaped at the base, the tip pointed or tapering to a sharp point, often abruptly so. Surfaces are hairless, edges are finely serrated, the teeth rounded to pointed or even hooked. Stalks are very short and hairless. Leaves turn bright red in fall.
New branchlets are weakly 4-sided, green and hairless, developing broad, reddish, corky wings along at least 2 of the angles. The wings eventually break off. Older branches have thin, gray-brown bark that splits, giving a striped appearance with the green inner tissue. Buds are cone-shaped with a sharply pointed tip.
The inner bark turns light brown, contrasting with the darker gray-brown outer bark. Stems are single or multiple from the base, branches are numerous and spreading, the shrub often as wide as or wider than tall.
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. When ripe, the capsule splits open revealing 1 to 4 fleshy, bright red fruits called arils, each containing 2 seeds.
Winged Burning-bush was introduced to North America as an ornamental in the 1860s and has been widely planted in eastern and midwestern landscapes. It adapts to a variety of soil conditions, is shade and salt tolerant, and, like Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), has escaped cultivation and become invasive, particularly in and around woodlands. While slow-growing, it produces a dense mat of roots and copious amounts of fruit, much of which drops under the mother tree and germinates there, creating a dense thicket where nothing else can grow. Birds that consume the fruits can start new populations far from the mother tree, and deer don't eat it and further deplete the native flora instead. Many of the images on this page were taken at a site where a single shrub was planted years ago but the woods at the back of the property are now being overrun by its offspring, giving the Buckthorn a run for its money.
Winged Burning-bush has been listed as a prohibited invasive species in a number of states, including Wisconsin, who had the foresight to ban its further sale before it became as bad as Buckthorn. Unfortunately, Minnesota has not followed Wisconsin's lead and is not likely to while the nursery industry continues to make a lot of money from this popular landscape shrub. It is almost certain the current county distribution map is not truly representative of its presence in natural areas around the state. We expect it will be largely ignored until it becomes too big a problem to manage, as happens with so many other invasive plants. A sterile variety has been developed, which is supposed to once again make Winged Burning-bush acceptable to the 20+ states that currently call it invasive. Why not promote native alternatives instead?
Winged Burning-bush is not likely to be confused with any other species. The winged stems are obvious and unique. It is easy to spot in fall as the bright red leaves persist longer than most other shrubs.
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- Winged Burning-bush shrub
- mature shrub turning red in fall
- mature shrub with young shrubs below
- seedlings emerging in spring
- dense covering of seedlings
- invading a woodland
- competing with buckthorn
- easy to spot in an infected woodland in fall
- leaf underside
- winged stem
- older branches lack wings, bark looks striped
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Houston and Ramsey counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?