The Winged Euonymus

As the good weather stretches more and more until autumn in Quebec, it is worthwhile to color our gardens with plants with prolonged flowerings as well as plants with decorative fall foliage.

Euonymuses are good choices for those who want spectacular foliage colors before the plants go out at the end of the summer season.

Euonymuses (Euonymus fortunei) with variegated foliage, such as the ‘Emerald’ n Gold’ (Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald’ n Gold’) Euonymus, are now well known to gardeners, while some of their small cousins who produce long-lasting fruits in the fall are rather unknown. As a bonus, the foliage of these sure values is colored with beautiful glowing colors at the end of September and in October.

The Winged Euonymus and its cultivars, among others, deserve to be more widely known by the public.

The Winged EuonymusEuonymus alatus

The Winged Euonymus is a round-shaped shrub that belongs to the Celastraceae family. The alata species are native to China and Japan. It was introduced in Europe around 1860.

Its rigid and corky branches are quadrangular, so they have four sides that form a square. This shrub owes its name to small “corky wings”, thin strips of cork that run along its branches. The bark is gray-brown. As soon as the first nights cool off in the fall, its opposite, deciduous leaves, ranging in length from 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 inches), turn dark red.

Its greenish-yellow flowers appear in late spring or early summer, but they are uninteresting. The Winged Euonymus produces a small, very decorative pendulous fruit, which forms a reddish globular capsule with four lobes containing orange-red seeds. The fruits are often hidden under the foliage. Be careful, the seeds are toxic to humans because they contain an alkaloid that can cause heart or neurological disorders. However, they are not toxic to birds.

The Winged Euonymus can be grown in partial shade, but a place in the sun guarantees a better reddish color. This shrub is generally very resistant to cold. A maintenance pruning is sometimes necessary in the spring to eliminate dead, broken or entangled branches. It can also be set back in the fall to limit its size. This operation causes the appearance of new stems which avoids unsightly stripping at its base, while accentuating the intensity of its fall coloring.

Winged Euonymuses can be planted as an isolated specimen or as a hedge. In the great outdoors, it does a good job in a small group. Shrubs should not be placed too densely, as they need space to spread. Promiscuity prevents them from developing their natural form.

The Chicago Fire ™ ‘Timber Creek’ Winged Euonymus – Euonymus alatus ‘Chicago Fire’

This cultivar was selected by the Chicagoland Grows Plant Introduction Program in 1995, a partnership between the Chicago Botanical Garden, The Morton Arboretum and the Ornational Grower’s Association of Northern Illinois. Chicago Fire ™ forms a shrub 2.7 to 3 m (8 to 10 ft.) high and 2 to 2.5 m (6 to 8 ft.) wide. Its fiery red autumn foliage would be more precocious than other cultivars. The fructification composed of small purple capsules is also longer lasting.

The compact Winged EuonymousEuonymus alatus ‘Compacta’

As the ‘Compacta’ cultivar has a slightly more compact habit than the species, the size of this shrub can be limited by a good maintenance pruning so that it reaches only 1.5 m (5 ft.) in width and height. However, it must be understood that it is not a dwarf form of the Winged Euonymus (as its cultivar name suggests), because if allowed, it can form a mound of 3 m (10 ft.) in height and a little more in width.

This Winged Euonymus’ leaves, a shrub that has already been very popular in Quebec, are about 7.5 cm (3 in.) long and of course take on the beautiful bright red color of fall euonymuses. The corky ridges that characterize the branches of the alata species are absent or very reduced in this cultivar. This characteristic may be at the origin of the name of this cultivar.

Fire Ball® ‘Select’ Winged EuonymusEuonymus alatus ‘Fire Ball’

This selection, introduced by Cole Nursery, an Ohio nursery, is a good improvement of the dwarf Winged Euonymus (Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’). Moreover, Fire Ball ™ would be much hardier than this cultivar. Marketed by Proven Winners, the shrub has good hardiness and is not susceptible to diseases and insects. It can be grown in many types of soils, with the exception of very moist soil. Placed in the sun, it will take its fall hue of a shiny flamboyant red earlier than in the shade and its color will be very bright. This cultivar can reach 1.2 to 2.2 m (4 to 7 ft.) in height and 1 to 1.2 m (3 to 4 ft.) in width, thus a smaller form than the species.

‘Rudy Haag’ Winged EuonymusEuonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag’

This mutation of the Winged Euonymus was introduced to ornamental horticulture by Rudy Haag, a nurseryman in Kentucky. The ‘Rudy Haag’ cultivar is really a dwarf form of the Winged Euonymus at only 1 to 1.5 m (3 to 5 ft.) high after 15 years of growth. Its annual growth is 7.5 to 12 cm (3 to 5 inches). We must prefer this selection to that of ‘Compacta’ if you really want a small Winged Euonymus. Its dark green elliptical leaves turn bright red in the sun and red-pink in the shade. The corky crests of its branches are clearly visible which gives it an additional advantage after the leaves fall.