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Unlike its common name, running strawberry bush doesn’t bear true strawberries, but this woody vine’s central stem rises about a foot and then drops and seems to “run” along the ground. Because of this habit, it’s a wonderful alternative to invasive groundcovers such as periwinkle, winter creeper, English ivy, and pachysandra. Running strawberry bush prefers well-drained loamy or rocky soils that range from moist to a little dry. It needs consistent watering the first year, but once established, it’s drought tolerant. It adapts to sand and clay and flourishes in medium to full shade. In mid-spring, it sporadically produces charming flowers that rest on obovate leaves (the widest part of the leaf is closer to the tips of the leaves than to the stem). A slender stalk grows out from the leaf axil/stem to rest along the middle of the leaf, ending in a small, dainty flower head with five pale, greenish-purple petals. In late summer, an exotic-looking orange-pink fruit splits open to reveal scarlet-coated seeds that are similar to the fruits of the eastern wahoo tree, another Euonymus that is native to Ohio. The stems of obovatus remain green all season, and the foliage takes on reddish-purple shades in the fall. Running strawberry bush differs from other Euonymus species by its low habit of growth, shorter (4-foot long) stems, five-petaled rather than four-petaled flowers, and obovate leaves. 


Native habitats include upland rocky woods, wooded slopes, and shady areas along cliffs. Use as a groundcover or a small shrub in shady areas.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 6-18” tall and up to 4' long.


Prefers medium to full shade.


Thrives in well-drained, moist to slightly dry soils.


Cymes of 1-4 flowers develop mid-spring to early summer for almost two months with 5 rounded, overlapping petals; 5 short stamens; and a central pistil. They are followed by round, 3-lobed fruits ¾” across with orange or pink cells that split open to reveal scarlet arils.


Pairs of opposite leaves up to 2½” long and finely serrated along the margins occur at intervals.


Central stem is either ascending or sprawling, branching occasionally. Angular stems are light green or purple and hairless.


Wildlife Value:

Running strawberry is a host plant to 14 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including cecropia silkmoth, specialist American ermine moth, zigzag herpetogramma, and black-shaded platynota. There is limited information about floral-faunal relationships, but the nectar and pollen probably attract small bees and flies.


The fruits are eaten by wild turkeys and other birds, while the foliage is occasionally eaten by deer and rabbits.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Caution: the fruits and foliage may be mildly toxic.

Strawberry Bush, Running, Euonymus obovatus

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