The shrub that won’t go away

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Serviceberry, Boston ivy and hydrangea are at their best in fall here. And there are many, many other great choices.

“What’s this beautiful shrub?!” was the question on our gardening group. And, of course, the answer was well-known to many of us: euonymus alatus, aka burning bush.

Euonymus alatus does have great color, but doesn’t provide much interest at other times.

There is no escaping this ubiquitous corporate landscaping choice at this time of year. Indeed, whoever did the plantings at my office stuck two of these in front, where they remained either green and boring or bare and boring for four years; this is the first year they are showing color, which I agree is very pretty. But the two weeks of pleasure provided by its fall color does not in any way alleviate the fact that this plant is invading forests throughout the US and is on the New York DEC “regulated” list, as well as many other invasive advisories throughout the country. I would never plant it.

Annoyingly, institutional and corporate landscapes often have massive rows of this. You’ll see it around traffic circles, lining parking lots, and in front of offices everywhere. It’s really only in fall, though, that I remember to be annoyed by its presence, as at other times it is nondescript. The worst part is when workers prune it into boxy shapes, which greatly interferes with the reason it was planted it in the first place—you get patches of red punctuated with bare spots rather than a glorious burst of red.

There are so many other shrubs that provide beautiful color in fall. So many. Some of my favorites include serviceberry, blueberry, beautyberry, and sumac. Sumac provides some of the best fall color I’ve ever seen, though it is a bit unruly for a small home garden. I enjoy it along the road. At home, I find that my viburnums, leucothoe, and hydrangea put on a decent show. And the maples, of course.

At the office, whatever was done in front is made up for in our courtyard (at top), which absolutely glows at this time, with, (mainly) serviceberry, Boston ivy, and river birch. No burning bush is needed or wanted here.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com

14 COMMENTS

  1. That courtyard is so beautifully planted that it’s hard to believe it’s the same place as the burning-bush-blighted front. At least they put the effort in the place where people linger!

    Bradford pears (Pyrus calleryana) are another example of an invasive woody with gorgeous fall color that’s been mass planted in public and commercial landscaping. One showed up at the edge of our field that has an almost fastigiate form; it’s a pillar of ruby flame at the moment, but it’s got to come down this winter.

  2. The other way this stupid shrub won’t go away is that it is invasive (here in Michigan and probably other states as well). I have found several burning bush shrubs in my woods and there are no burning bushes planted within a half a mile. After we cut and painted the stumps with herbicide, now several years later there are carpets of burning bush seedlings all around them. Grrr!!! Same with barberry!

  3. I inherited a burning bush when I bought my house. I have tried getting rid of it because it is crowding another shrub to no avail. Before that, however, I would prune the foliage on the lower half to display its lovely bark.

  4. Agreed, so much Euonymus alatus is stunning for a few months in the year. Its value to wildlife is just close to zero; apparently it is host to some scale species and to at least one moth, also from Asia. Info on how to get rid of the Euonymus Leaf Notcher: https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1743/

    That being said, Viburnum nudum var Cassioides, Blueberries (high or low), Viburnum lentago (fall photo: https://northamericantrees.com/viburnum-lentago.html) are just a few easy to grow, beautiful choices that also have real value to wildlife.

  5. I’m so tired of customers clinging to this shrub as if its the fountain of youth or going to provide a treasure trove of gold bars in fall.

    Another rant: today I was in Nashville at my brother and sister in-laws house. They just had their front yard transplanted — full shade. Here’s what was planted — way too many false cypress gold mop things in a row one foot apart, Japanese hollies in a row, a crepe myrtle and a green giant arborvitae in tiny areas one foot from the house.

  6. Hypericum frondosum (zone 5 to 8) is a wonderful alternative to BB. Plus, it has a delightful early summer yellow bloom that pollinators adore and peeling bark for winter interest. I garden in middle Tennessee.

  7. Sister in law from the Midwest recently came to visit us for the first time in decades during a week of stunning fall color here in the Oregon Cascades: vibrant reds, oranges, golds and yellows against a backdrop of green fir trees, snow capped mountains, plunging waterfalls, all under brilliant blue skies. Her one excited, positive comment about the landscape was about the scarlet burning bushes in a parking lot for an office complex. Turns out, the wild beauty in its natural settings frightened her; meanwhile, I barely noticed the burning bushes in their concrete surroundings. It was truly a wake up call for me about individual perception and values, both hers and mine.

  8. The landscapers here in Ohio plant burning bush by the truckload because it’s virtually indestructible – a contractor almost never has to replace a dead one. I inherited three of them on my property; however, since I teach pruning to beginners, the burning bushes are hugely helpful to practice on. Even the worst pruning job has no detrimental effect on them!

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