Q&A: Is Burning Bush an Invasive Plant?

euonymus alatus

Winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is a Tier 2 invasive plant in Maryland. Photo: C. Carignan

Q: A friend has offered me a sapling of a burning bush. I am a little concerned about it being invasive. Could you please tell me if this is a true concern? Thanks.

winged burning bush berries

Berries of winged burning bush. Photo: C. Carignan

A: Yes, the burning bush shrub, also called winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is considered invasive in Maryland (and many other places) and deserves concern. In fact, this particular species is now regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) as a Tier 2 invasive plant. This classification means that retail stores that offer this plant for sale must display a required sign indicating that it is an invasive plant. Landscapers may not supply burning bushes unless they provide the customer with a list of Tier 2 invasive plants.

rhus aromatica

Fragrant sumac foliage. Photo: M. Hengemihle

Burning bush is not native to the United States. It produces a lot of berries and most of them fall nearby. A high number of seedlings will sprout and you will have to remove them. That is a nuisance. (Even when one of these plants is removed, berries left in the soil keep germinating for years and years.) But the real danger is when birds spread the berries into natural areas or parks where they do the same thing and there is nothing to stop them. These shrubs start crowding out the native plants that are needed by our native wildlife.

A lot of invasive plants get spread just like a burning bush sapling, because they produce seeds so efficiently. It is good to be cautious about free plants!

itea virginica

Virginia sweetspire foliage (center) turns burgundy to red in the fall. Photo: R. Malloy

For alternatives to burning bushes, consider other shrubs that produce beautiful red fall color. Some choices are:

Be sure to research the growing requirements for these plants to make sure they are appropriate for the conditions in your landscape.

fothergilla foliage

Fothergilla foliage. Photo: D. Clement

Visit the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) website for more information about invasive plants.

By HGIC’s Certified Professional Horticulturists

Have a plant or pest question? University of Maryland Extension’s experts have answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask an Expert.

Blueberry foliage. Photo: M. Hengemihle

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