The plant most commented on when I am leading a walk on a late November day is very colourful. It’s another of those plants which confuse us by having multiple common names. Burning Bush, Spindle Tree (the wood of some Euonymus species was traditionally used for making spindles for the spinning of wool), Burning-Bush Euonymus, Hearts Bursting With Love, Bitter-Ash and Wahoo.
In November \ December, Burning-Bush Euonymus is the best name as the leaves turn to a lovely flaming red \ purple.
A few years ago, a seedling of this plant appeared spontaneously in my back garden. As I do with all interesting additions, I allowed it to prosper and it is now over 4 meters tall and bears lots of fruit. The pictures in this article are of my backyard tree. There are a few trees in Toronto’s Don Valley which are about 6 meters tall.
My plant is Euonymus europaea (from Europe) It resembles the native Euonymus atropurpurea very closely. The two are told apart by colour of flower petals, bud shape and whether or not the underside of the leaf is pubescent. Burning-bush Euonymus occurs along streams, on floodplains and in moist woodlands as well as in my backyard. The stems are somewhat four-sided. When there are no leaves left, the plant bears a striking resemblance to the old TV antennas which used to be present on every roof top.
The most interesting features are the fruit capsules. They are about 12 mm across, with four prominent lobes, splitting to reveal four seeds, each enclosed in a bright orange-red flashy little cup around the seed. These remain on the tree long after the leaves have fallen and provide winter food for wildlife. To humans, the fruit, seeds and bark are considered to be poisonous.
This colourful tree makes a fine back-drop for the chickadees, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals and other birds as they await a turn at our bird feeder.