944 Euonymus americanusCommon Names: American strawberry-bush, hearts-a-burstin', bursting heart Family: Celastraceae (bittersweet Family)
American strawberry bush is a thin little shrub with narrow, opposite leaves, green stems and tiny, inconspicuous flowers that give way to peculiar crimson red fruits that look like strawberries bursting out of their red winter coats. The bush usually gets no more than 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) tall, and has a loose, sprawling structure with thin, wiry, spreading branches and an open, airy form. There usually are several main upright stems arising in a stoloniferous clump. The twigs are distinctive, four-angled and green. The deciduous leaves are 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) long and have fine teeth on the margins. The springtime flowers are very inconspicuous, only about a third of an inch (0.8 cm) across, with five greenish yellow petals. The fruit is a warty red capsule about 1 in (2.5 cm) across that looks a little like a strawberry. When ripe, the capsule splits open to reveal four or five orange-red seeds framed by the persistent scarlet husks.
American strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus, occurs in the shady understory of moist forests of eastern North America from New York south to Florida, and west to Oklahoma and east Texas.
CultureStrawberry bush prefers a well drained, humus rich soil, slightly on the acid side. Light: Strawberry bush does well in shady situations, tolerating even full shade, and thriving in light, dappled shade. Moisture: Once established, strawberry bush can tolerate any droughts that might occur within its natural range. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Greenwood cuttings taken in summer root readily. The seeds germinate after three months of cold treatment. The root clumps also can be divided to make more plants. This is best done in the winter.
American strawberry bush is best used in naturalistic settings, in the shade of larger shrubs and trees. But be sure it's close to the path where the interesting (and beautiful) fruits can be appreciated! A specimen covered with hundreds of bursting red hearts is a remarkable sight. In autumn, the leaves turn shades of orange and red before falling. In the winter, the leafless green twigs and stems are structurally interesting. Strawberry bush will naturalize under ideal conditions, forming loose, open clumps of sprawling green stems, but it would never be considered invasive or even moderately aggressive. White-tailed deer love this plant and will eat the foliage and small twigs every chance they get.
American strawberry-bush may not be as well known to the garden community as its Asiatic relatives, winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus) and wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), but this American native certainly deserves to be. Look for it in native plant nurseries within its range.
The fruits, though beautiful to look at, are reported to be poisonous if ingested.
Steve Christman 2/24/02; updated 10/31/03