The euonymus family of shrubs contains some of our most interesting and attractive nature plants. Sad to say while our native shrubs are most welcomed, other non-natives are not as welcomed.
Among these are the winged wahoo or burning bush, wintercreeper and spindle tree. These aliens have been planted in many locations and have escaped from cultivation and spread into sites where they are now crowding out our native plants.
One of our most attractive euonymus is the wahoo or eastern burning bush. It can be found all across Indiana in the sites where it likes to grow. These include stream sides, along the edge of woods and on occasion even in upland locations. This is another of the shrubs that are hard to tell apart unless they are in flower or have produced their fruit.
The wahoo has both flower and fruit that sets it apart from many of our native shrubs. In the spring the wahoo has very attractive maroon flowers that are a half inch across. They form on stalks that are up to inches in length.
In the fall the wahoo really comes alive with fleshy pink fruit capsule that when they open into quarter-shaped ripe fruit reveal bright orange-red seed seeds that can last well into cold weather. Birds and other wildlife do not seem to consume many of these seeds, thus they can be around for an extended period of time.
While the wahoo can reach a height of up to 15 feet, it is usually not this tall. The leaves are a rather dull green in color and range from an inch to six inches in length. They look like many other native shrub leaves, thus the best way to identify the wahoo is by its flowers and fruit.
One reason the fruit is not consumed is the seeds are said to be somewhat poisonous, as a few children have taken ill after they have eaten some of these seeds.
In the fall the leaves of the wayoo turn read and this also helps us to find the location where the plant is found.
Two other native plants that resemble the wahoo are the brook euonymus or strawberry bush and the running wahoo. Both of these natives have fruit that are pink on the outside of the fruiting capsule and orange-red seeds sequestered inside. It is hard to tell these three shrubs apart.
The brook euonymus is a smaller plant, only about six feet in height, while the running euonymus is usually a low-growing prostrate shrub.
It seems if it is rather tall it is the wahoo, if not as tall the “brook” variety, and if it is low growing it is called the running shrub. The latter plant is found all over Indiana except the extreme southwestern counties.
The brook has a much more restricted range, only being found in a few Hoosier counties near or along the Ohio River in extreme southern Indiana. It is a southern plant that reached its northern range in the Ohio River area. It is listed as rather uncommon in Indiana and is on the endangered list in Illinois.
The alien burning bush has been planted in many locations over the years since the 1860s when it first became available in the United States nurseries. It has escaped into the wild in many ares where it has become a weed shrub.
It is a pretty plant with bright red leaves in the fall and the same appearing fruit with its red seeds as does our native plants. One does not know it is around until when I must admit it does put on a spectacular display as do our native shrubs, which grow where they are supposed to grow.
Each year I see these alien plants in new locations and now wonder how far it will spread if not controlled.