Euonymus atropurpureus Jacq.



CC = 5
CW = 3
MOC = 76

© SRTurner

Family - Celastraceae

Habit - Shrub or small tree 2-6 m tall.

Stem - Twigs green, gray, or less commonly brownish purple, circular in cross-section.

Euonymus_atropurpureus_bark.jpg Bark.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Opposite, simple, petiolate. Petioles 10-20 mm long. Leaf blades 4-14 cm long, 2-7 cm wide, thin and herbaceous, elliptic to narrowly ovate or ovate, narrowed or tapered at the base, narrowed or tapered to a usually sharply pointed tip, the margins finely and usually sharply toothed.

Euonymus_atropurpureus_leaves.jpg Leaves.

© SRTurner

Euonymus_atropurpureus_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescences - Small axillary panicles with 6-24 flowers.

Euonymus_atropurpureus_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Flowers - usually perfect (rarely functionally staminate or pistillate). Sepals 4, 1.0-1.5 mm long, fused toward the base. Petals 4, 2-3 mm long, 1.5-2.5 mm wide, dark reddish-brown. Stamens 4, these inserted along the margin of the nectar disc, the filaments minute. Ovary usually with 1-5 locules and 2-6 ovules per locule. Style short, stout, the stigma entire or shallowly 3-lobed.

Euonymus_atropurpureus_flowers.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Euonymus_atropurpureus_sepals.jpg Sepals.

© SRTurner

Euonymus_atropurpureus_flowers2.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Capsules 6-10 mm long, 2-4-lobed from the tip to about the midpoint, the valves smooth, pink, fading to tan. Seeds 1-6 per locule, 4-5 mm long. Seeds 1-6 per locule, 4-5 mm long, ovoid to ellipsoid, brown, each enclosed in a fleshy red to orange aril.

Euonymus_atropurpureus_fruits.jpg Fruits.

© SRTurner

Euonymus_atropurpureus_fruit.jpg Fruit.

Seeds enclosed in fleshy orange aril.

© SRTurner

Flowering - April - June.

Habitat - Bases and ledges of bluffs, forests, glade margins, upland prairies.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Vegetatively resembles a number of other shrubs, particularly E. alatus and E. europaeus.

Other info. - This native shrub is fairly common throughout Missouri. Its U.S. distribution is mainly in the Midwest, becoming less common toward the Atlantic coast. Somewhat nondescript vegetatively, it becomes impossible to mistake when in flower or fruit. The flowers are small and brownish but interesting up close, and the fruits in fall are a showy neon pink. The leaves are opposite on relatively long petioles, and the small terminal bud (between the most apical pair of leaves on a branch) is distinctive. The plant is a common find in good-quality woodlands at the bases of bluffs.

This species was used much by natives. The thin stems were used as hunting arrows and many ailments were treated with different parts of the plant. The bark and roots contain compounds similar to those of digitalis. Most parts of the plant are now considered toxic and should not be ingested.

As of 2019, the USDA's Plants Database lists "burningbush" as the common name for this species. This seems inappropriate. At least in Misssouri, that term is usually applied to E. alatus, an introduced species which is often considered invasive. E.alatus can usually be differentiated by at least a few branches having corky wings, and also by its shorter petioles. Another potential lookalike is E. europaeus, which is currently rare in Missouri but could become more common. This species has totally glabrous leaves and whitish flowers. Confusingly, the term "wahoo" can also refer to winged elm, Ulmus alatus, a totally different plant in a different family.

Photographs taken along the Al Foster trail, St. Louis County, MO, 5-24-2010, at LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, Jefferson County, MO, 5-30-2011, along the Katy Trail near Dutzow, 10-30-2013 and 11-5-2019, and at Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 5-21-2015 (SRTurner).