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Burning Bush

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), native to central China and Korea, has occasionally escaped from the ornamental plantings commonly found throughout Ohio into neglected urban and rural areas, by way of its seed production. This vase-shaped shrub is known primarily for its outstanding red fall foliage, which blazes for about two weeks in early to mid-autumn. Almost forgotten is its natural vase shape (since it is so often sheared into hedges or globes in landscape plantings) and the corky-winged species form (rather than the green-twigged compact form). If left unpruned, the compact form of Burning Bush will grow to about 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide, and the species (winged) form will grow to about 15 feet tall and 20 feet wide. As a member of the Staff-Tree Family, it is related to Bittersweet (shrubs or vines noted for their yellow or orange dried fruits) and other types of Euonymus (trees, shrubs, and viney groundcovers).

Planting Requirements - Burning Bush is so adaptable to a variety of soil conditions (ranging from fertile to sterile, organic to clay, acidic to alkaline, rocky to sandy) that it is overused in urban landscapes. It does not tolerate wet soils, but does moderately well in dry soils (most roots are near the surface), and responds very well to root pruning (as a balled and burlapped shrub) as its fibrous root system quickly regenerates. Supplemental water and fertilizer can make this slow-growing shrub increase its growth rate significantly, when needed.

Potential Problems - Burning Bush, like most members of the genus Euonymus, may suffer greatly from an insect known as scale (there are several types of scale; Burning Bush has a dark-colored species, not the more common white species). This hard-shelled miniature insect is found between the corkiness of the branches, branchlets, and twigs, making the "green" part of the bark disappear (an causing a noticeable loss of vigor in the parts of the shrub infested).

In addition, Burning Bush often suffers from "mulch-induced nitrogen deficiency" when placed in sterile clay soils or soils of high pH. In this case, premature fall color (in faded red-green form) develops as a symptom. The solution is to pull back the mulch, fertilize the root zone, lightly reapply the mulch, and water thoroughly. Plant vigor will likely not return until the following year.

Identifying Features - Burning Bush


Leaves of Burning Bush are medium to dark green, opposite, and obovate to elliptical, with drawn-out tips.

Fall color is usually spectacular, ranging from crimson to bright red in full sun, becoming more pink-red for plants sited in partial sun to partial shade. Leaves are often slightly drooping, making their brilliant fall color even more pronounced.


While seldom noticed, the miniature perfect flowers of Burning Bush have four green-yellow petals, opening in mid-spring (upper left)


A few of these develop into small fruits that ripen in autumn and have red-orange seeds that hang below the split-open capsules (upper right), all of which are usually lost in the brilliant fall foliage.


Burning Bush occurs in two forms: the introduced wild species, which has corky twigs and branchlets that are especially effective in winter, ...

...and a cultivated dwarf form, that retains the green coloration of the inner bark on its twigs, branchlets, and striated lower trunks, but with only a hint of corkiness.