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Plant of the Month: March 2015

Winged Spindletree
Euonymus alatus (Th.) Sieb. 1830, non Elmer 1912
CELASTRACEÆ ; Bittersweet Family

A distinctive shrub or (rarely) small tree from Northeast Asia, is planted commonly for landscape decoration. Its edibility is little known outside Korea. The plant, Euonymus alatus, grows in China, Amur, Manchuria, Sakhalin, Korea and Japan. It has been cultivated in the West since the 1860s.
    It is prized for good reasons: 1) its stiffly sideways or horizontal branching pattern is pronounced; 2) its green twigs are striking with odd brown corky wings; 3) its fall color is deep rosy, even neon-like in brilliance; 4) it is tough, rather than fussy, being easily cultivated, movable, prunable, and not hurt often by insects or diseases. Also, the purplish fruits with scarlet seeds are ornamental, though not as showy as some of its relatives. Finally, the young leaves are edible, albeit briefly in spring.
    Drawbacks are: 1) its wide branching makes it hog space in gardens; 2) in some regions it is weedy; 3) in some regions it is tiresomely common; 4) in dry-summer regions it is thirsty; 5) in all regions it lacks floral beauty. Its flowers are tiny and pale greenish.
    In English, it is called Winged Spindletree due to its weird twigs, and Burning Bush due to its bright fall color. In Chinese, Wei mao; Japanese Nishiki-gi or Ma-yumi; Korean Hwa-sal-na-mu.
    Winged Spindletree can grow up to 16 feet tall, and over 20 feet wide. In contrast, some Euonymus trees reach over 40 feet tall. Most nurseries in North America sell relatively compact versions. The plants produce the most fruit if stressed, and in full sun; in shadier sites and with richer, moist soil, they are less fruitful.
    A few trees that sometimes have corky-ridged twigs include Elm (Ulmus alata --and some Ulmus minor variants and hybrids), the English Maple (Acer campestre), Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), Sweetgum (Liquidambar Styraciflua). I guess that the cork serves to dissuade browsing.
    The genus Euonymus consists of some 130 species of shrubs, vines and trees, deciduous or evergreen. Euonymus is an ancient Greek name, from eu, good or well, and onoma, a name; literally of good repute: well-named --used ironically because the shrubs known then in Europe had the reputation of stinking, and poisoning cattle. The name is spelt Evonymus sometimes.
    At least 10 species of Euonymus are recorded as eaten by people. In the case of the Winged Spindletree, Koreans enjoy the flavor of its young tender leaves, raw in salads, or cooked lightly. The taste is very mild. The flowers have also been brewed into tea. References exist to the fruit having been eaten, but I have seen no details.
    To me, the young leaves of Euonymus japonicus taste similar, that is: bland. But they become tough and chewy soon, hence only the tenderest tips are ideal to consume. This latter is evergreen, and varies from a shrub, even vinelike, to a definite small tree.
    Most of my photographs show Winged Spindletrees in Seattle, photographed this month. One shows its winsome fall color and orange seeds, in Oregon.

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Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus in March; photo by ALJ

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus in March; photo by ALJ

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus with flower buds in March; photo by ALJ

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus young tender shoots in March; photo by ALJ

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus seedlings; photo by ALJ

Euonymus alatus

Euonymus alatus fall color; photo by ALJ




Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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