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A winged euonymus is a deciduous shrub that is native to China, Japan and Korea. It is also known Euonymus alatus, winged spindle or burning bush. It is commonly known as burning bush because of its fall foliage colors ranging from bright red to reddish-pink. This plant also bears red berries in the fall. The burning bush nickname alludes to Bible verses referring to Moses and a “burning bush.”
This plant is characterized by cork-like strips that grow from the branches, which is how the “winged” portion of its name was derived. The plant will usually grow from 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3.0 m) high, but some adult plants have been known to grow up to 20 feet (6.1 m) high. In order to control its growth, a winged euonymus can be cut to the ground, it can be treated with chemicals or the seedlings can be pulled by hand.
There are two varieties of this plant. One is the standard winged euonymus. The other is a variety called compacta winged ueonymus, which grows about 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) tall.
The leaves of a winged euonymus are dark green and grow in pairs along the stem. The leaves usually are about 0.8 to 2.8 inches (2 to 7 cm) long and 0.4 to 1.6 inches (1 to 4 cm) wide. In the fall, the leaves will turn bright red.
Greenish flowers grow in the spring, and red-purple berries grow during the summer. The berries are about half an inch (1.3 cm) long and will open up in the fall. There are four reddish-orange seeds that are exposed when the berries open.
Although this plant is native to Asia, it was introduced into the United States in the late 1800s. It is mainly used as an ornamental shrub in the U.S., where it is often planted along highways. Winged euonymus is frequently found in forests throughout the eastern counties of Pennsylvania. Some states in the eastern part of the U.S. have banned winged euonymus from being imported because of its invasive nature.
Winged euonymus should not be planted near forests because of its invasiveness. It threatens mature forests because it will out-compete with the native species of the area. Its seed production is tremendous, which allows for birds to disperse the seeds throughout a large area. There are many shrubs that can be planted as an alternative to winged euonymus, including Virginia sweetspire, ninebark, bayberry, red chokeberry, blackhaw and winterberry holly.