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Burning bush: fall foliage for cutting

Gladioli, amaranth and burning bush at Rachel's wedding. Image ©GardenPhotos.comHad a jolly time at my niece’s wedding on Saturday up in Woodstock, New York (where the festival famously wasn’t) and, as ever, spotted something of horticultural interest. The bold floral displays at the ceremony featured gladioli in autumnal orange with purple amaranthus and all backed by – burning bush, Euonymus alatus. Click the image to enlarge it and see the foliage more clearly.

It’s not often that we see Euonymus alatus used as cut foliage. It makes a spectacular feature in the landscape with its brilliant fall color and is also being mentioned as a worrying invasive. But not many people have the bright idea of using it for cutting. And one of the appealing things about it is that the older leaves color first so that at along one branch the foliage color changes from purple-tinted green at the tips to puce or brilliant scarlet at the base and this creates possibilities of harmonies with a range of colors.

Fall color on two plants of Euonymus alatus maturing at different times. Image ©GardenPhotos.comA feature worth keeping in mind is that many of the plants we grow are seedlings, so no two are exactly the same. The result is that different individual plants reach the peak of their fall color at different times. The foliage from two plants growing side by side in our Pennsylvania garden (right, click to enlarge) shows one at peak of color and one still some way off. This is a great advantage for cutting as it ensures that material is available over a longer period but in the garden, and especially when grown as an informal hedge, a mix of brilliant red and almost green foliage is much less effective than a continuous dazzle of scarlet.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of invasiveness. It grows naturally in China and Japan but planting burning bush is banned in Massachusetts and the plant is cited as invasive in Connecticut but I don't think it will ever be the menace of plants like Japanese knotweed because the deer eat it. The plants in the unfenced part of our garden ahave been eaten bare to about 5ft//1.5m and seedlings never grow more than a few inches before being eaten.

But, if you’d rather be cautious, there’s the varieties ‘Rudy Haag’ and Little Moses (‘Odom’) which set almost no seeds so are far less likely to spread. But, for cutting, they have the disadvantage of being dwarf and slow growing, as do most of the other named sorts including ‘Compactus’, ‘Fire Ball’ and ‘Timber Creek’.

Euonymus alatus fruits and autumn foliage. Image ©GardenPhotos.comBut burning bush has two other attractive features, both more noticeable when stems are cut for the arrangements and after the leaves have finally fallen. The winged stems of mature branches are a striking feature and while ‘Blade Runner’ has broader wings than other varieties var. apterus and ‘Compactus’ are less noticeably winged. And then there are those reddish purple fruits which split to reveal orange seeds. They last well and line the branches in winter.

I couldn’t find any info on how to treat cut burning bush stems to ensure they last as long as possible in the vase. My usual bible on cutting woody material is the invaluable Woody Cut Stems For Growers and Florists by Lane Greer and John M. Dole (available from amazon.com and from amazon.co.uk) but it concentrates on evergreen Euonymus species. So if anyone has any thoughts on how to ensure the fall foliage of Euonymus alatus lasts well in the vase, please post a comment.

Comments

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Bobby

Do the birds eat the berries?

Graham Rice

They do, eventually. The leaves usually seem to develop pinkish tones then fall, leaving the fruits on the bare branches. I've sometimes seen a chipmunk up there, filling up, and they're very pretty when iced over but if a flock of grackles (like big starlings) come through they quickly vanish or the finches eat them but there are often still fruits present in the new year.

Chad Turner

I have seen today a deer standing up on its hind legs to eat the leaves of burning bush in my garden. It's not their favorite but like your it's not till 4-5ft that there are any leaves still on the bush.

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