winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus)
winged burning bush
Euonymus alata (Thub.) Sieb.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The scientific name of winged burning bush is Euonymus
alatus (Thunb.) Sieb. Worldwide, 5 poorly differentiated varieties are recog-
nized by various systematists based on leaf color and relative hairiness.
Two varieties occur in North America: 1) Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Sieb.
var. alatus and 2) Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Sieb. var. apterus Regel. The
Atlas of Virginia Flora lists Euonymus alatus without variety. However, the
PLANTS Database indicates that only variety alatus occurs in Virginia.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Winged burning bush
is a rounded shrub that grows to 8.2 feet (2.5 m) tall. The branches typical-
ly have prominent, corky wings, although stem wings are reduced to ridges
or absent on some plants. Winged burning bush is deciduous, with opposite
leaves. Its leaves turn a bright scarlet red in autumn (the primary factor
for it being a popular ornamental). The inflorescence is a long-peduncled
cyme with perfect flowers. The fruit is a dehiscent capsule containing up
to 4 seeds that are enclosed in an aril. Winged burning bush's root system
as deep and fibrous.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Winged burning bush regenerates from
seed and vegetatively. Little is known of winged burning bush's regenera-
tion requirements in wildland ecosystems. Research is needed on all
aspects of winged burning bush regeneration.
There is insufficient information concerning pollination and breeding; how-
ever, seed production as been described as "prodigious". Seeds are dispers-
ed by frugivorous birds; passage through a bird's digestive system may
increase germination rates, although this has not been confirmed.
According to expert opinion and fact sheets, winged burning bush sprouts
from the root crown after top-kill from herbicides, so it is likely that it also
sprouts following other top-killing events. Winged burning bush tolerates
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Winged burning bush appears adaptable to
a variety of site conditions. Few details are currently available regarding
site conditions preferred by this species. Winged burning bush tolerates a
variety of soil textures and pH levels, and grows in dry to moist soils. A fact
sheet described winged burning bush as drought tolerant but intolerant of
wet soils. In oak-hickory-sugar maple forests in Illinois, winged burning
bush dominated forest understories most often within small ravines. It also
dominated shady valley floors and shady microsites on north-facing hill-
slopes. Research is needed on site conditions that may increase vulner-
ability of native plant communities to winged burning bush invasion.
In its native China, winged burning bush occurs in forests, woodlands, and
scrublands from sea level to 8,900 feet (2,700 m) elevation. Elevational
ranges for winged burning bush in North America were not available of as
Winged burning bush may tolerate elevated levels of soil methane. In New
York, it was planted on landfill sites and on control sites, where methane
was not detected in the soil. Winged burning bush persisted in landfill soils,
although its growth was significantly greater in control soils.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Winged burning bush tolerates full sun to
nearly full shade and has invaded closed-canopy, "relatively undisturbed"
forest communities in Illinois. Little research had been conducted on suc-
cessional patterns in plant communities with winged burning bush, and
research is needed on winged burning bush's successional role in eastern
mixed-hardwood and other plant communities where it is invasive. In the
Northeast, winged burning bush may reach greatest coverage in late-suc-
cessional hardwood forests. According to a fact sheet, winged burning bush
has overgrown native shrub species and become dominant in the under-
stories of closed-canopy, mixed-hardwood forests in Pennsylvania.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: In general, winged burning bush flowers
from May to June in the Northeast. Late April to late June flowering is
noted in Pennsylvania, while winged burning bush flowers in June and July
in Illinois. Fruit capsules ripen in September and October in the Northeast.
The capsules dehisce and seeds disperse in September and October in
Pennsylvania. Leaves turn a "brilliant" purplish red to scarlet before drop-
ping in autumn. Fall color is most intense in plants growing in sun.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Winged burning bush's native distribution
extends from central China to northeastern Asia. Besides central and east-
ern China, winged burning bush occurs in Korea, the Sakhalin islands of
eastern Russia, and Japan. It was introduced in Europe and North America
as an ornamental. Winged burning bush was first introduced in the United
States in the 1860s. It has escaped cultivation or become invasive mostly
in the northeastern United States. Winged burning bush was well establish-
ed in some parts of the Northeast by the late 20th century. It had establish-
ed near Palestine in Wirt County, West Virginia, by 1977. In a Michigan
flora, winged burning bush was noted as rarely escaping cultivation but
spreading "occasionally" into woodlands, thickets, and uncultivated urban
and rural areas. This observation has been noted by other researchers who
describe winged burning bush as widely cultivated but only "locally escaped
from cultivation" in the Northeast. By the turn of the 21st century, winged
burning bush was locally invasive in many northeastern states and being
most invasive in Connecticut, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. A 2006
review describes 21 states as "invaded".
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Shrub specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
The specific distribution for winged burning bush has not been determined.
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: In the Northeast,
winged burning bush is invasive in pastures, glacial drift hill prairies, wood-
lands, and mature second-growth forests. It may be common in late-suc-
cessional oak-hickory (Quercus-Carya spp.), maple-beech (Acer-Fagus
spp.), and other mixed-hardwood forests. It is noted in mixed-oak forests
and swamp chestnut oak-swamp white oak-Shumard's oak (Quercus
michauxii-Quercus bicolor-Quercus shumardii) swamps of Great Falls
National Park, Virginia and in oak-hickory-sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
forests of Illinois. It also occurs in little bluestem-Indian grass (Schizachyr-
ium scoparium-Sorghastrum nutans) prairie in Illinois. In southern Con-
necticut, winged burning bush occurred in a mixed-hardwood forest with
high densities of white-tailed deer. Due to browsing, woody understory
vegetation was sparse except for sugar maple seedlings, winged burning
bush, and other nonnative shrubs.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: There was little information on wildlife or
livestock use of winged burning bush as of 2009. Rabbits browse winged
burning bush, and birds eat winged burning bush arils. Winged burning
bush is not palatable to white-tailed deer.
Winged burning bush is widely cultivated for its brilliant autumn foliage
and distinctive winged branches.
Crooked Run Valley