There are so many landscape shrubs that brighten autumn with rich colors, that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Sumac is a classic. Viburnums are great. Shrub forms of Amur maple color up richly. But one stands out for me: burning bush.
Burning bush has several other common names, including winged euonymus. When talking about the shrub, I like to give it the name ‘winged euonymus burning bush’ so everyone’s referring to the same thing. The botanical name is Euonymus alatus, and the common name burning bush was reportedly adopted because the autumn color is like the flaming shrub of Moses’ biblical fame. In fact, one of the cultivars is named ‘Little Moses,’ although it can grow to 6 feet high.
The common name “winged euonymus” comes from both the wing-like leaf arrangement, and the wing-like appearance of the twigs, which have corky ridges making it very decorative even during winter.
What’s so great about winged euonymus burning bush? It has an autumn color that is best described as intensely fluorescent in shades of bright red, even tending toward brilliant pink-red. Fall color develops reliably over the entire shrub. Other shrub types can be sporadic in changing colors with variability over the shrub. But when burning bush goes up in flames, the whole thing flames.
Following are burning bush’s growth habits:
- It can be grown in full sun or full shade.
- The most common cultivar sold at garden centers is called Dwarf Burning Bush with the botanical name Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus.’ The name is a little misleading, because dwarf burning bush reaches a height of 6 to 8 feet high and 8 feet wide, so give it plenty of space. It can be kept smaller with trimming.
- Burning bush trims well, so can be used for hedging.
- The cultivar ‘Fireball’ is sometimes seen, which is possibly shorter at about 6 feet at maturity.
- Burning bush is winter-hardy in zone 4, but could be marginal in the coldest regions of zone 3, across the northern third of North Dakota and Minnesota.
- The exact color tone can depend on whether it’s growing in full sun or full shade; both are beautiful.
- Growth habit is a large mound, with foliage all the way to the base.
- Burning bush is sometimes pruned into small tree-forms, and sold as such.