Burning Bush – Burning Issue
The Burning Bush is on fire. That may seem like a duh! statement, but this particular Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) doesn’t burst into flame until mid-November in the Tawes Garden, when it becomes a major attraction. Most of the year it’s just a workhorse landscape shrub with insignificant flowers and matte, dark-green leaves on corky stems. But before it drops those leaves for the winter—Wow! It sets them afire with a saturated red so intense it truly deserves the term “burning”. Very few plants in the Fall landscape can match it.
Its Fall color alone has long made Burning Bush a popular specimen for residential planting, but this Asian shrub has other desirable traits as well. Tough, adaptable, and low-maintenance, it will grow almost anywhere in the U.S. It is a popular choice for foundation plantings, hedges, and median strips.
So what’s not to like? Unfortunately, we now know that in some areas—including the East Coast—and some circumstances, it has become invasive. While not too problematic in tended landscapes, if it escapes beyond them it can be. And it does escape: Birds eat its fruits and spread the seeds into wooded areas where it can then continue to seed itself until it forms large, dense thickets that choke out native growth. It’s not a major problem in the wooded sections of the Tawes Garden, but there’s more of it there than should be.
A few states have now banned the sale of Burning Bush. But while this is an obvious reaction to the problem...it’s maybe a little too obvious, and probably doesn’t do much good. The plant is already out there, in the millions, and has become naturalized in many locations. And it’s still a beautiful, useful landscape shrub with high value for the nursery industry.
Maryland has, so far, taken a more measured approach to the problem, classifying the shrub as a Tier II invasive. This means that the sale of Burning Bush is not prohibited, but businesses must offer it with an accompanying warning about its invasive potential. (For more information, go to extension.umd.edu. There you will also find suggestions for less controversial native shrubs with good Fall color.)
If we are all the responsible gardeners we should be, being armed with knowledge can help us make an appropriate choice about letting Burning Bush set its fires in our landscapes.