Friday, November 7, 2008

Euonymus alatus: invasive bastard!

I love helping to educate people about various plants in the landscape so when people ask me to identify something I'm happy to. But in the fall there is one shrub that I inevitably get asked about a million times over and it makes my skin crawl. Can you tell me what that amazing bright red shrub is? I see it all over in public parks and shopping centers. The stems are corky and winged and I just love how vibrant it is this time of year!

Yes, I know the plant exactly. Oh yes, I'm sure I see the one you are looking at. Positive. It is called burning bush, botanically known as Euonymus alatus, and don't be fooled, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is perhaps one of the best examples of one of the worst invasive shrubs in the northeastern United States. Originally chosen and planted in American gardens because of its brilliant red fall color, burning bush is an introduced species with no natural predators. Planted in suburban lots all over the northeast the seeds eventually spread, mostly via birds, into nearby woods and began to produce multiple seedlings. Now, from southern New Jersey to northern Massachusetts natural forests and woodlands are being disrupted and native species are losing the fight against this invasive shrub. Driving in the fall you might not think anything is wrong as you see patches of the bright red shrub amidst your local woods, but a trained horticulturist will be quick to tell you otherwise. Organizations devoted to restoring natural ecosystems and habitats can no longer attempt to eradicate the problem and the plant populations that have run rampant; the best we can do now is to control the infestations as best we can. Some states have made great strides to make invasive plants illegal to buy or sell, but I am sorry to say you can still find burning bush for sale in New York State. It makes me a crazy person. If you want to know more visit the New England Wild Flower website and their page on Euonymus alatus.

You can tell this is a topic I feel strongly about. When you realize you love a plant do the right thing and research it before you just go and buy it. Because a plant might have one or two interesting characteristics does not mean it is welcome in our local environment. And if you think you are exempt because you live in a city then try and tell me you don't have any birds, wind, water, or sewer system in your neighborhood, and I'll still tell you how you are single-handedly destroying our nature ecosystems. Don't be an ass. It all goes back to one basic people forget all too often, think before you act.

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