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Burning Bush Shrubs: Illegal Aliens


Burning bush picture.

Burning bush picture.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Burning Bush Shrubs:

Plant taxonomy classifies burning bush as Euonymus alata. Various cultivars exist, include the compact 'Rudy Haag.'

Plant Type:

Burning bushes are deciduous shrubs.


For most of the year, the cork-like strips that protrude from this plant's branches are its chief selling point. But all that changes in autumn, when burning bush shrubs put on a fall foliage show for the ages! The fall foliage color ranges from red to pinkish-red. It also bears reddish-orange berries in autumn. Can grow to be over 15 feet tall; but the "Rudy Haag" cultivar matures to be just 3-5'x 3-5'.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones for Burning Bush Shrubs:

Burning bush is hardy to zone 4. The plants are indigenous to Asia, giving them their "alien" status in North America.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Burning Bush Shrubs:

Burning bush prefers a well-drained soil. Grow them in the sun for optimal fall foliage color.

Care for Burning Bush Shrubs:

Pruning is not necessary, but aesthetic tastes do, of course, vary. Some homeowners prune burning bush (I've even seen them grown as well-maintained hedges), others give free rein to the natural branching pattern (see photo).

Uses for Burning Bush Shrubs:

Burning bush makes a good specimen plant in autumn, used singly. But it's at its most spectacular in mass plantings. Before their invasive nature (in the eastern part of the U.S.) became widely known, states in the eastern U.S. sometimes installed such mass plantings along roadsides.

Caveat in Growing Burning Bush Shrubs:

Burning bush is alien invasive plant (see below).

Origin of Names:

The Latin, alata (see Plant Taxonomy above) means "winged"; and, in fact, these plants are also called "winged euonymus." This reference to "wings" derives from the cork-like ridges that protrude from its branches. A relative of the plant, Euonymus europaeus, is called "spindle tree," because its wood was used to make spindles; thus our plant, Euonymus alata, is also referred to as "winged spindle tree." The plant's primary common name, "burning bush" derives from the plant's brilliant fall foliage, but may also contain an allusion to Moses' "burning bush" in the bible.

Burning Bush Shrubs: Illegal Aliens?:

This alien forms dense thickets in eastern North American forests (I've seen evidence of it, myself, in Connecticut), thickets that can out-compete native plants and form a monoculture. Some eastern U.S. states are now banning the importation of burning bush and other alien invasives.

As a fall-foliage alternative to burning bush in this region, sumac is often recommended. Indeed, as I observe in my article on sumac, sumac is one of the most underrated plants for fall foliage!

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