Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Burning Bush

Lovely planting
Its time for True Confessions.  We have an invasive species planted in our back yard.  Quite possibly you do too.  Many invasive species get their start as decorative plantings and fly under the radar for years before escaping into the wild.  The last decade it was callery (Bradford) pear.  Today it is burning bush.

Lovely forest floor or horror? -
Yes, we are talking about the common burning bush, Euonymus alatus, a beautiful shrub that brings bright red fall color to your yard as early fall colors are fading.  It was brought to North America in the1860s and like many invasive species it has been slow in asserting itself.  With time it has gradually spread to a variety of disturbed habitats including forest edges, old fields, and roadsides.  It is now taking over undisturbed forest understory where it crowds out shrubs and tree seedlings.

It has an advantage over native shrubs and seedlings.  Like most of us, deer have their favorite foods, and they avoid burning bush like a kid offered broccoli.  In one study of an infested forest, deer feces contained 17 plant species but no burning bush.  This means that they are likely to thrive in areas with large deer populations such as forests and woodlands near urban areas, an expanding portion of our landscape.
Escaping cultivation- 2013

The term "invasive species" covers a multitude of sins from kudzu (the plant that ate the south) to species such as callary pear that are just getting started.  The burning bush story is still early and the threat to Missouri is presently unknown.  Climate and soil types may influence its spread as well as many other factors.  Like callery pear, it is spread by birds, first to adjacent urban fields, then on to more distant areas.

Roadside invasion- Nature Conservancy
There is some good (and bad) news on the burning bush field as botanists are having some success developing a sterile cultivar.  We have been here before (recall the callery pear again), as nature's desire to reproduce has overcome our sterilization efforts in the past.  Also, with an acceptable sterile substitute it would soon be impossible to determine which urban planting was sterile.  Life only gets more complicated with time.

Ironically Euonymus, roughly translated, comes from the Greek meaning "good name" or "of good repute."  Much like the burning bush of Moses which refused to be consumed by the flames, E. alatus isn't likely to disappear from our woodlands without our help. suggests these native species as replacements for burning bush: 

Euonymus atropurpureus (Wahoo)
Shrub or small tree most often grown for its attractive red berries and reddish fall color. Small purple flowers in spring are followed by scarlet red fruit in fall which birds enjoy.
Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry)
It is hard to beat the wine red fall color and the black fruit display of this very adaptable shrub! A plant the colonizes due to its ability to sucker. Foliage is deep green and glossy all summer. Clusters of white flowers in spring form the large black fruits in the fall.
Rhus aromatica (Fragrant Sumac)
Low, irregular spreading shrub with lower branches that grow horizontally then turn up at the tips. Tends to sucker and root along stems that touch the soil, forming a dense stand. Yellow-green flowers appear before leaves emerge. Clusters of fuzzy red fruit form on female plants August-September and may persist into winter. Many birds and mammals feed on the fruit. Leaves turn bright red-purple in fall.
Rhus glabra (Smooth Sumac)
Compound leaves are shiny dark green on top and almost white on the undersides. Compact clusters of dark red, velvety berries form August-September. The brilliant red fall foliage becomes a focal point in the landscape.

Information on control is at NRCS

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