The time is right – for euonymus

Planting euonymus is a bit like eating prunes – we know we should but when presented with more exciting things – well it’s a hard thing to do.

Most of us walk past the pots of either E. fortunei or E. japonicus and don’t give them a second thought. It is only at this time of year when the range of plants is severely limited, especially for pots and hanging baskets, that I give them much attention. Euonymus japonicus is, potentially, the most exciting since it has larger leaves, often with a mirror-like finish. It is usually grown as a free-standing shrub but is sometimes grown as a hedge. It withstands regular and severe pruning, dense shade and neglect but the problem is that if it is badly treated it is often horribly disfigured with mildew. And then there is the problem of scale insect which coats the stems so thickly they look like ‘Twiglets’ rather than twigs. Better growing conditions and a dose of systemic insecticide will help clear up the plants. That it is tolerant of wind and sea spray became evident to me when I noticed that it was the plant that grew up the wall and under the promenades at Madeira Drive, Brighton, West Sussex. What those ancient, sunburned, windswept plants must have seen: hundreds of fights between mods and rockers, hundreds of London to Brighton runs, car rallies and bike trips. So this is an adaptable plant that can grow from 60cm to 6m (with support) and is commonly available, either as tiny rooted cuttings or big pots of well grown plants.

Euonymus fortunei seems to have attracted more attention from plant breeders and is a more useful plant, perhaps. It too will grow in sun or shade, is evergreen, is available in variegated forms and withstands pruning. It is a much laxer plant and is usually grown as ground cover but could be clipped as a low hedge, to replace box, and if grown against a fence or wall or tree it will send up long stems with aerial roots and change its habit and looks, rather like ivy. These ‘adult’Β  shoots also flower and fruit more freely too.

Euonymus do not have exciting flowers. They are usually small, fleeting and green with four petals. Sometimes they are noticeable due to their large numbers but no one would plant a euonymus for flowers. When I was Head Gardener at Myddelton House there was a euonymus there, that was presumably planted by E A Bowles himself. It was a large, spreading, arching shrub with sparse foliage and large, airy clusters of small, green flowers. It was curious but not attractive and the flowers smelled so awful that walking past it when in bloom made you think you had stepped in something a dog left behind.

The flowers are largely bisexual even though those of Celastrus, a beautiful twining shrub that is now a nuisance in some American states, is dioecious with either male or female flowers on each plant.

But although euonymus generally are not exciting in spring or summer, they suddenly attract our attention at this time of year. Euonymus alatus is one of the best and most reliable of all shrubs for autumn colour and the leaves reliably turn pink and crimson around now. Sometimes the display is augmented by the strange fruits.

euony alatus

Euonymus fruit are attractive in the garden. They are usually rather ‘square’ and each of the two to four compartments contains one or more seeds which are coated with a fleshy aril. As the plastic-like fruits split the seeds are revealed and they often hang on a thread, the aril giving the seed a contrasting colour to the fruit case.

Two attracted my attention the other day at Glasnevin and both are large shrubs that are largely ignored by gardeners but would be worthy additions to any garden.

euony hamiltonianus2

Euonymus hamiltonianus is a large shrub or small tree. These photos are taken a little early because the leaves have yet to take on their spectacular autumn colouring. But even so the fruits are looking good.

euony hamiltonianus

Native to eastern Asia it deserves to be better known. The same can be said for the semi-evergreen E. grandiflorus. This has large, shiny foliage. The name ‘grandiflorus’ is apt since the yellowish flowers are large for the genus but it is not spectacular and it is in autumn that the plant earns its keep.

euony grandi salicifolius

This will soon look far more spectacular when the fruits ripen and open.

euony grandi salicifolius2

Like most euonymus they are not fussy about soil and tolerate lime.


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15 Comments on “The time is right – for euonymus”

  1. Meriel
    October 19, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    I was also thinking about Euonymus recently. I spotted a planting of 3 mature, probably E. jap. Aureus, planted along the top driveway edge of a shady lawn in front of a large red brick town house. It was probably E. jap. Aureus with a lovely fresh Limey look in the shade, about 3′ H x 6-8′ W. I thought how attractive & effective they looked. Also a budget solution. Sometimes less is more! As a plantaholic, a similar solution would be impossible for me unless for someone else’s garden!
    I adore E. alatus, descriptively called Firebush in N. America.
    I thought I previously asked re your plant ratings, perhaps I forgot to check your answer. Could you explain please? Ie. difference between Garden & Geoff rating. It might be usefull for new readers you displayed it permanently at the top.

    • thebikinggardener
      October 19, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

      I agree that, when you have the room for them, the evergreens are a great way to fill space. I had a friend who had a huge variegated E. fortuneii in the middle of the garden and in spring and early summer it was spectacular. Thank you for the comments about the ratings – i will add a note to one of the front pages. The reason I give two ratings is because I am biased in some cases and won over by beauty (in my eyes) so give a rating that I would give it and a more rational rating based on its usefulness in the garden πŸ™‚

  2. sueturner31
    October 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I have grown a few Euonymus from seed ‘borrowed’ from a N/T property, they are now mature specimens and produce lovely seed pods with brilliant autumn colour. It’s used on our boundary, not being too invasive and only needing a clip every now and again. The fruit in your pictures looks very lush, mine comes very sparse, any tips …

    • thebikinggardener
      October 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

      I have to say that those euonymus are not in my garden but were at Glasnevin. Although euonymus are self fertile I have a suspicion that growing more than one clone may help with fertilisation and fruit set. The fact that the euonymus at glasnevin are grouped together, as they would be in a botanical garden, probably helps with fruit set but, of course, the seeds may produce hybrid plants. As your plants are from seed they are different clones so they should fruit well. Perhaps the ‘clip now and again’ is removing potential fruiting stems. Just a thought. πŸ™‚

      • sueturner31
        October 20, 2014 at 9:30 am #

        Good thought…leave well alone….I may have more next year then…Thanks.

      • John
        October 5, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

        I am a great fan of deciduous Euonymus and indeed it was a visit to Glasnevin that got me hooked. I consequently have a collection of them now in my garden including E. latifolius, planipes, bungeanus, hamiltonianus and gradiflorus “red wine”. I am curious to know whether the E grandiflorus in Glasnevin is f. salicifolius? or just E. grandiflorus? I was in Kew gardens last week and took some pictures of an unlabelled Euonymus. It had lots of creamy pink fruits with red and black seeds against shiny foliage. I really want to know if this was E grandiflorus or maybe the salicilfolius form?
        I could send you a picture if you like.

        • thebikinggardener
          October 5, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

          thank you for stopping by and for commenting. I can do no better than quote from Bean!

          This species (E. grandiflorus) is represented in cultivation by the following form, which seems to differ from the type only in its narrower leaves:

          f. salicifolius Stapf & F. Ballard – A semi-evergreen tree 25 ft or more high, or a shrub; young shoots slender, glabrous, slightly ribbed. Leaves lanceolate to narrrowly oval, slender-pointed, wedge-shaped at the base, finely toothed; 2 to 41⁄2 in. long, 5⁄8 to 11⁄4 in. wide, dark bright green, glabrous on both sides; stalk 1⁄2 in. or less long. Flowers greenish or yellowish white, three to nine on a cymose inflorescence, the main-stalk of which is 1 to 2 in. long; the individual flower 1 in. wide on a stalk 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. long. Petals four, wrinkled, roundish, 1⁄8 in. wide; calyx-lobes shallow, reflexed (especially on the fruit); disk large. Fruit four-lobed, 5⁄8 in. wide, four-ribbed, palepink; seeds black. Bot. Mag.,t. 9183.

          Native of N. India (Nepal, Khasia, Bhutan) and of W. China. It was cultivated at Kew in 1867 but was afterwards apparently lost to cultivation until reintroduced from Bhutan by Cooper about 1914, under his number 3562. Plants raised from his seed succeeded very well with the late Sir Chas. Cave at Sidbury Manor, Sidmouth, from whom I had handsome fruit-bearing branches in November 1925. Plants of the same origin have proved quite hardy at Kew and Glasnevin, very healthy, of spreading habit and free growth. It also grows well on chalk at Highdown in Sussex, where two plants have made a clump 20 ft across. It was given an Award of Merit when shown from there in 1953. Plants have also been raised from seeds collected by Forrest in Yunnan in 1922, and from seeds sent home by his collectors in 1933, also from Yunnan.

          Judging by specimens in Kew Herbarium from both India and China, E. grandiflorus is variable in leaf, the majority having obovate leaves much shorter and broader than in Cooper’s plant and with rounded ends; the fruits, however, seem to be fairly uniform in size and shape.

          The broad-leaved, more typical form of the species grows at Wakehurst Place in Sussex. This has the leaves up to 43⁄4 in. long, 21⁄2 in. wide (narrower on the spurs). They are noticeably thicker and glossier than in the narrow-leaved form growing nearby, and turn purple or bronze in the autumn.

          • John
            October 5, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

            Thanks, this is extremely helpful. Especially the fact that it mentions these species in Kew and Glasnevin and the fact that there is such variability if leave form. I had thought that the leaves if salicifolius had to be really narrow but I see that this is not the case.
            It was suggested to me that it might be E. morrisonensis
            but I don’t think so. I have taken photos of the plant in Kew and will go to Glasnevin in next week to compare to the plant there. Thanks again for your help in solving the mystery if the identity of this particular Euonymus.
            Have you seen E. bungeanus ‘Dart’s Pride’ – beautiful at present.

            • thebikinggardener
              October 6, 2017 at 7:53 am #

              Glad to help. I have not been up for a while – too much happening at the moment for a day off at the moment.

  3. Meriel
    October 20, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    Many thanks for explaination which now makes complete sense. Forgot to mention that Euonymus is another plant the deer love so I have given up. The vine weevil love them too incidentally. I must get a standard tree, which would prob be ok! I adore the fluorescent pink & orange fruits.

    • thebikinggardener
      October 20, 2014 at 9:51 am #

      Yes, adult vine weevil like to nibble the edges – a warning that somewhere there are grubs eating your primulas and heucheras!

  4. digwithdorris
    October 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    I just love that opening sentence! Almost as bonkers as the orange berries.D

    • thebikinggardener
      October 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      thanks – like euonymus I do bonkers quite naturally πŸ™‚

  5. Chloris
    November 14, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    I am a bit late saying how I enjoyed this post about lovely Euonymus. I have been meaning to write a post about a visit to the National Collection of Euonymus at East Bergholt Place in Suffolk. I just got round to it today. You might like to have a look, you might see ones that you havn’ t come across before. There are some weird and wonderful ones about.

  6. Noelle
    March 12, 2018 at 2:32 pm #

    Having visited your writings before, now that I have just acquired Euonymous alatus Compactus, I thought I would check out what you have to say about the Euonymuses…I love bonkers, strange shapes and drama too.

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