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Every fall, I feast my eyes on other people's burning bushes (Euonymus alatus). I have favorites — like the grove on the little hill to the west of the First Baptist Church in Groton on Route 119.

The "alatus' part of this shrub's botanical name refers to corky "wings" that project from the sides of branches (in most varieties); they look interesting in winter, especially with snow. But the big draw of course is that stunning red in fall. Some critics claim it's too bright, too common — but I long for one.

Can I find a spot in my yard? It grows huge — up to 15 feet tall and wide (depending on variety, but even some sold as "compact" still grow to 10 feet). All too often young bushes get put in locations without room for their mature dimensions, then chopped back; it makes me squirm to see them. But the bush takes well to sensible pruning: you can shear it into a hedge, espalier it, or train it as a bonsai.

I prefer to see the shrub's natural branch structure. I don't have room for a 10 to 15 foot mound. But I do have room for a small tree that tall and wide. Among the specimens I watch, some of my favorites are pruned like this, leaving space underneath for other plants. I'm trying to avoid additional work, but I decide it's worth it.

Another drawback is that it grows so densely it chokes everything else out. Pruning it up would solve that, too — except that it's also invasive, and taking over wild areas. Still obsessed with that red, I decide I can pull out seedlings around it, and dig up suckers.

It's easy to transplant, bothered by few pests or diseases, and tolerant of many conditions. It likes acid soil, and must have good drainage: I can provide those. It grows well in full sun to full shade, with best color in sun (in shade it may be only pink). In full sun, it may need supplemental water. Well... maybe I could find a place on the soaker hose with the roses.

Then I learn that birds love its berries, and when the seeds pass through their digestive tract, they end up far from the parent bush. There's no way I can control seedlings.

That's the last straw. I guess I'll just continue to enjoy burning bushes I can visit.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 15 November 2002
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