Euonymus obovata - 1 (3)

by Trish Murphy

Yes this plant does have a common name, but it is so awkward and misleading that we won't tell you what it is. Maybe having a cute common name would help this plant get the recognition that it deserves, for it is startling how few people know Euonymus obovata. In the meantime, grit your teeth, all you Latin avoiders. The genus Euonymus includes those evergreen shrubs that are the staple of cookie-cutter foundation planting. If the average garden-centre goer can learn to say Euonymus, so can you. Obovata means upside-down egg-shaped, and refers to the shape of the leaves.

If you want an obliging and easy low plant for deep deciduous shade, you should try Euonymus obovata. It is a prostrate shrub that seldom gets more than a foot tall. It grows sideways, rooting where it touches the soil. Unlike the much-used Eurasian ground-cover called wintercreeper, this Euonymus is deciduous. But its stems are bright green and stay bright green through the winter, making it a subtle choice for winter colour in the lower Great Lakes region.

The showiest feature of Euonymus obovata is its brightly coloured fruit, which ripen in the late summer, just when the shade garden could use some spots of colour. The bumpy outer capsules are vivid pink and the round seeds are shiny orange or scarlet. The fruit is relatively large for the height of the plant and, in years of adequate rainfall, it is produced abundantly. As with all other Euonymus, the fruit is not edible. For humans. Somebody must eat the fruit because in the woods they disappear during the course of the autumn.

Euonymus obovata often forms extensive patches in the woods but it seldom becomes so dense that it excludes other plants. It grows as part of the community of forest floor plants, which might include trilliums, toothworts, Virginia waterleaf, ferns, and other familiar woodland plants.

Euonymus obovata is found in woods, ravines, and remnant woodlots; on clay soils and on sand. In Ontario it is common in woods almost everywhere below an imaginary line running from about Grand Bend to Toronto. North of that line it scarcely occurs. Thus it is a good marker plant for the Deciduous Zone. In the United States it grows from Indiana across southern Michigan into western New York. Its range extends south of the Great Lakes into Tennessee.

[The common name is running strawberry bush euonymus.]