Burning Bush: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

Invasive burning bush mixes the good and the bad.
burning bush

burning bush

The spectacular fall colors of the burning bush.

The spectacular fall colors of the burning bush.

The burning bush (Euonymus alatus), native to China and surrounding areas, averages 8 to 12 feet in height with its wing-like branches stretching out to make it nearly as wide as it is tall. For most of the year, the pleasant appearance, soil and climate adaptability and remarkable hardiness of this deciduous, ornamental shrub easily explains its longstanding popularity in landscaping.

Its fiery biblical moniker may seem a little confusing in the summer months, but all is revealed when fall descends and the leaves of this oft-used hedge shrub explode into spectacular crimson. A stunning display of seasonal brilliance that brings to mind another name for this backyard favorite. It is also known as the wahoo! (Exclamation point implied).

First introduced to the United States in 1860, burning bush was a nursery staple by the early 1900s. The low maintenance, high impact shrub became increasingly common on the Eastern seaboard, from New England to Georgia. An added boost in popularity came mid-century with the introduction of a hedge-friendly dwarf variety.

But the environmental adaptability, hardiness and ease of germination of this colorful superstar has come with an unexpected downside. Not only are these anxious to grow, birds love the seeds and carry them far and wide. Wild growth of this aggressor has begun to threaten native plant life in wild regions.

And as a consequence, this backyard beauty and longtime favorite has developed a different reputation. Although many still hold the burning bush in high regard, the National Parks Service no longer shares this opinion. The burning bush is now considered an invasive species and planting has been discouraged in recent years.

Although sales of burning bush have been banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the plant is still commonly available for purchase in other states and its fans are many. In all regions, the removal of established plants near forested regions and diligence in hand-pulling seedlings is recommended.

Now the good news.

There is hope for environmentally concerned fans of the much-loved burning bush. In 2011, the New England Invasive Plant Center published that a decade long project at the University of Connecticut has revealed the genetic combination needed to grow a sterile version of burning bush. Although availability of this non-invasive game changer is likely still a few years away, the future of this controversial cultivar is suddenly looking brighter.

To which I say wahoo! (Exclamation point explicit).

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