COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.
By Erin Buchholz, integrated pest management specialist
I’ve been asked by a few people this season about burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and its status in Minnesota. Will it still be sold at garden centers? What’s the problem with it? Will I have to dig mine out?
Quick answers: for a little while longer; it’s not behaving itself; and no – but you probably should anyway.
Let’s dive a little deeper. Burning bush, also known as winged euonymus, was intentionally introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant in 1860. It is native from northeast Asia to central China.
What’s to love? It’s compact. It hedges well. The fall color is outstanding. There are many cultivated varieties. Birds love it. Plus, any lingering fruit adds some winter interest. Oh yeah, the birds and the fruit …
So, what happened? Simply put, people happened. We loved it so much that we overplanted it. It’s everywhere. Oh, and the birds? They eat the fruit and plop the seeds in natural areas. Many native plants in our natural areas are displaced by burning bush. Forests need tree saplings to survive so they regenerate, and these bushes prevent that from happening. We eventually lose the forest.
It’s gotten so bad that 20 states in the United States have either declared it a problem species, or have passed laws to regulate or eliminate it altogether. It is particularly invasive in northeastern states. As Minnesota’s climate changes, it could get much worse for us, too.
What happens now? On January 1, 2020, burning bush became a regulated species. This is pretty unique, as we are phasing it out over time. From now until January 1, 2023, garden centers and nurseries can still sell it. After that, it will move to the restricted noxious weeds list, meaning it will be illegal to import, sell or transport any propagating plant parts in Minnesota (which includes whole plants).
What should I do? Well, you can follow us as we phase it out at the Arboretum. With our mixed hardwood forests and native plant collections that make you feel far away from the cities, we want to prevent invasive species from causing trouble.
We replaced an old burning bush hedge between the Sensory Garden and the Dayton Wildflower Garden with ‘Blue Muffin’ viburnum this spring. While the fall color might not be as bold as its predecessor, it still gives beautiful shades of purple, red and gold.
My other preferred native alternatives: Aronia melanocarpa, or black chokeberry (which is considered a superfood thanks to its antioxidants), and Vaccinium, also known as blueberry. Yes, blueberry shrubs have outstanding fall color. You’ll need to adjust your soil pH with elemental sulphur or acid fertilizers, though. Birds love these shrubs as well, so you might want to get some netting to reduce the competition for fruit. Enjoy!