Exotic burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is native to northeast Asia and central China. It was introduced in the United States in the 1860s and it still widely planted today as an ornamental due to its brightly colored fall foliage. Unfortunately, it has spread from landscaping plantings and has become invasive in native habitats. The native burning bush (Euonymus atropurpureus), commonly known as eastern wahoo, is unfortunately lesser known and nurseries and greenhouses often only carry the exotic varieties. Exotic burning bush is a very large dense shrub that can grow in nearly any habitat except those with poorly drained soils. It shades or crowds out native vegetation due to its large, dense growth.
Habitat: Will grow in nearly any area from forest to prairie; doesn’t grow in wet areas. Most common invasions are in wooded areas.
Hardiness: Zone 4
Mature Shape: Large shrub
Height: Up to 20 feet tall
Site Requirements: prefers dry or moist soils; doesn’t grow in poorly drained areas
Leaves: simple, opposite, elliptical, finely toothed, 1-3 inches long, half inch to inch and a quarter inch wide, short petioles, bright pink or red in the fall
Flowering Dates: May to early June
Exotic burning bush is also sometimes called winged wahoo burning bush due to the “wings” that grow on the sides of the twigs. Twigs are green when young, and eventually turn brown. Bark on older plants is smooth; gray on the outside and pale on the inside.
Flowers are one third of an inch across and greenish yellow with 4 petals. They grow in clusters of 3. Fruits are red capsules that open to reveal red seeds.
The native burning bush, eastern wahoo, lacks winged stems and has purple-red flowers instead of greenish yellow flowers.
Avoiding the use of exotic burning bush in landscaping can help prevent their spread into nearby natural areas. Once this plant escapes cultivation, control can be difficult, especially after it has become large and established. Cutting the plant and treating with herbicide is likely the most effective method. Read more about control of burning bush and other invasive species in our Chemical Control of Unwanted Vegetation article.