Common Name: Winged burning bush, winged wahoo
Scientific name: Euonymus alatus
Identification: Winged burning bush is a deciduous, rounded shrub that can be up to 20’ tall at maturity, though it is frequently pruned to be much shorter in maintained landscapes. It is often as wide as it is tall. Branches and stems are green to brown with 2 – 4 corky brown wings along the stems. The wings are prominent in the species but are less obvious among certain cultivated varieties. The medium to dark green leaves are finely but sharply toothed, wedge-shaped, mostly opposite, and up to 3” long and half as wide. The foliage turns bright red in the fall. Yellow-green flowers with four petals appear from late spring through mid-summer and are ⅓” in diameter. Fruit ripens into ¼-⅓” long reddish capsules that split to reveal orange fleshy seeds in fall.
Look-alikes: There are two native shrubs that are closely related to burning bush: Eastern wahoo (E. atropurpureus) and bursting heart (E. americanus). Bursting heart is very rare in the Great Lakes region and is a State Endangered Species in New York. The corky winged stems of winged burning bush are the easiest way to differentiate it from all native species and from related exotics such as European spindle (E. europeus).
Winged burning bush has been reported occasionally throughout most of the Great Lakes region. It has not been reported in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the U.S., this species is most commonly reported throughout New England, on Long Island, and in the Washington D.C. area. The plant is hardy to at least Zone 4b. Particularly dense infestations can be expected in areas where the species has been planted as an ornamental landscape plant.
Additional invasive species distribution data for specific Great Lakes jurisdictions are available via:
- Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (Michigan)
- iMapInvasives (New York and Pennsylvania)
- EDDMapS Ontario
Seeds are spread over long distances by birds which eat the seeds.
Winged burning bush frequently invades open systems like forest edges, prairies, old fields and right-of-ways. It is shade tolerant and can also occur in interior hardwood forests.
Where it becomes established in forests, winged burning bush can out-compete native shrub species to become the dominant species in the understory. Once mature, it produces a large volume of seed every year. It is not favored for browsing by white-tailed deer, which lends it another advantage over many native species (Fryer 2009).
In North America, winged burning bush has been cultivated as an ornamental plant for over 150 years due to its bright fall color and adaptability to the developed landscape (Fryer 2009). Many cultivated varieties (cultivars) have been developed and marketed. It is still a popular landscaping choice in many areas today.
Plant propagators have developed and released several less seedy cultivars of winged burning bush. However, problems have been recognized with some of these cultivars. One issue is that there appears to be significant variation in seed production between individuals of the same cultivar. For example, in an unpublished study conducted by University of Wisconsin Extension, researchers found that a purportedly seedless cultivar did not produce any seed (Renz and Jull 2012). However, Brand et al. (2012) found that the same cultivar did produce viable seed. This study also noted wide variation in seed production of burning bush cultivars in different years.
Another problem is that cultivars often don’t come true from seed, meaning that subsequent generations of plants may be as seedy and as capable of contributing to invasions as the overall species. A final consideration is that population modeling indicates that for long-lived species, such as trees and shrubs, even relatively low fruiting individuals can contribute to population growth over time (Knight et al. 2011).
A research team at the University of Connecticut is currently working on development of a triploid variety of burning bush, which may be more reliably seedless than other cultivars, but it is still in testing (Barger 2017).
Please see our Landscape Alternatives pages for more information about how the WIGL Collaborative selected alternatives.
|Alternatives for Winged Burning Bush
Common name (Latin name)
good for hedging
|Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)a||✔||✔||✔|
|Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)a||✔||✔||✔|
|Eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus)||✔||✔|
|Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)a||✔||✔||✔|
|Shining sumac (Rhus copallina)a||✔||✔||✔|
|Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
‘Ralph Senior’ AUTUMN JAZZ®, ‘KLMthree’ CARDINAL™,
‘Morton’ NORTHERN BURGUNDY®
|American cranberry viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum)
|Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
‘Guazam’ GUARDIAN®, ‘McKRouge’ FOREST ROUGE™
|Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus)||✔||✔||✔|
|Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)a||✔||✔|
|Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major)a||✔||✔|
|Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
‘Henry’s Garnet,’ ‘Morton’ SCARLET BEAUTY™
|Blood-twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)||✔||~|
|Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii)||✔||✔||✔|
~ = trait is somewhat present but not as pronounced as in check-marked examples
a Chokeberries, fothergillas are thicket forming shrubs. Chokeberries and fothergillas can usually be pruned to size, but sumacs are generally not considered the best choice for formal hedges or gardens, but are great for woodland gardens or natural area borders.
b Variable fall foliage; listed cultivars are known for bright red fall color.
Green = native to part of the Great Lakes Basin
Yellow = native to the United States but not to the Basin
Blue = not native but not invasive
The WIGL Collaborative’s decision trees are designed to help site users, who are perhaps newly discovering that plants that are part of their home landscaping are invasive, prioritize which species should be removed first based on risk to the surrounding environment, economy, and occasionally, to human health. In a perfect world, everybody would remove all invasive plants from their landscaping right away, but in reality, removing mature woody plants involve a hefty investment of time and/or money. These diagrams can help people with multiple woody invasives in their landscaping prioritize to get the most benefit for their efforts.
To learn more about the methodology and information used to develop the decision trees and for helpful hints on how to answer the questions, please see the full report here (PDF).
The following is a brief overview of management techniques shown to be effective on winged burning bush. For more detailed information on how to use these techniques, visit our Management and Control page. For local assistance managing woody invasive species, please get in touch with a cooperative invasive species management group or a university extension program.
Timing and spread concerns: Early detection is an advantage in managing any invasive species. Whenever possible, individual plants should be controlled before they are able to fruit in order to prevent spread. If control is undertaken after plants have fruited, it is best not to remove the plants from the site to avoid spreading seed.
Physical control: Seedlings and small plants can easily be hand-pulled from moist soil; larger plants can be dug or pulled using equipment such as a weed wrench or a digging tool. Roots must be removed to prevent regrowth. Due to winged burning bush’s deep and fibrous root system, physical removal is unlikely to be practicable for mature plants. Methods that involve top-killing without follow-up with herbicide (mowing, grazing, prescribed fire etc.) are unlikely to be effective as they promote extensive regrowth.
Chemical control and combined approaches: Foliar application of herbicide is effective during the growing season when the plants are in full leaf, but may cause off-target damage to any nearby desirable plants. Cut stump, stem injection or basal bark herbicide treatments are effective and can be applied at most time of the year outside of early spring. In especially dense infestations, chemical application may be more feasible if biomass reduction efforts such as targeted grazing or mowing are conducted first. In all cases, herbicide should be selected carefully based on site conditions, and label directions read and followed carefully.
With any treatment it will be necessary to monitor for and treat regrowth and new seedlings in subsequent years.
Resources on management of winged burning bush:
- Barger, TS. 2017. UConn horticulturalists creating sterile versions of invasive shrubs. Harford Courant (Online). 2/1/2019.
- Brand, MH, Lubell, JD, and JM Lehrer. 2012. Fecundity of winged euonymus cultivars and their ability to invade various natural environments. HortScience. 47(8): 1029-1033.
- Fryer, Janet L. 2009. Euonymus alatus. In: Fire Effects Information System (Online). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. 2/1/2019.
- Knight, TM, Havens, K, and P Vitt. 2011. Will the use of less fecund cultivars reduce the invasiveness of perennial plants? BioScience. 61(10): 816-822.
- Renz, MJ and LG Jull. 2012. Seed production and viability of Euonymus alatus cultivars in the Upper Midwest. Proceedings of the 2012 Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference.
Photo: James Miller, USDA Forest Service, via bugwood.org