Exotic Burning Bush Invasive Species Profile

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.

burning bushes in landscaping planting
Exotic Burning Bush - Photo by Leslie J Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

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

burning bush twig with extensions that look like paddles or wings
Burning bush twigs with "wings" - Photo by Bary Rice, Sarracenia.com, Bugwood.org

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.

Control Methods

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.

burning bush plant with green foliage
Burning bush plant - Photo by John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

burning bush green foliage
Burning bush leaves - Photo by Adam Janke, Iowa State University


burning bush infestation in the woods
Burning bush infestation - Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

burning bush bark on mature plant
Burning bush bark - Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

burning bush infestation in the fall
Burning bush infestation in the fall - Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org