At first, you might not take notice of this 4-6’ shrubby tree. In spring and summer, its erect form blends into the background, bearing dainty, inconspicuous yellowish-green blooms resting on pairs of green leaves that line the sprawling branches. But in fall, strawberry bush comes alive with color when its green fruit capsules turn pinkish red, splitting like tiny, breaking hearts to reveal several red-orange seeds (common names include bursting heart and hearts-a-burstin’). At the same time, the foliage turns bright red or maroon, creating a truly spectacular fall sight. This underused garden plant so enamored early colonists that it became one of the first North American plants sent to Europe for use in ornamental gardens as early as 1663. Ideal growth occurs in partial shade with afternoon sun, though it will tolerate full shade with slower growth and fewer seeds. It accepts a variety of growing conditions, from wet to dry and sandy to clay soils, and tolerates both drought and wet soils to some degree. It thrives in woody, naturalized settings and is unaffected when sited near black walnut trees. Various birds and small mammals enjoy the seeds, and the ridged twigs and foliage are highly attractive to deer.
Native habitats include moist woods, wooded slopes, low and sandy thickets, swamps, and stream banks. It may be used in rain, shade, and native gardens and is perfect for wooded and naturalized areas. It’s prone to suckering, which is ideal for letting it grow as a hedge. Water young plants until established and remove galls caused by crown gall, a bacterial infection.
Grows 4-6’ tall and 2-4’ wide.
Prefers light shade but tolerates full shade and full sun.
Tends to prefer moist soils, but will grow in a variety of dry or well-drained soils, including clay, loam, and rich.
Saucer-shaped flowers with 4-5 yellow-green petals and purple stamens are less than an inch across, blooming from May to June. Red, bumpy fruit capsules are ¾” long, splitting open to reveal 4-5 reddish-orange seeds September to October.
Oblong, yellow-green leaves are 1-3” long with slightly serrated margins and pointed tips. They turn red to maroon in fall.
The multi-stemmed trunk has slender, square, green stems that are typical of Euonymus.
Strawberry bush is a host plant for 14 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including specialist American ermine moth, cecropia silkmoth, white-marked tussock moth, and currant clearwing. The flowers offer nectar to hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Seeds are eaten by many small mammals and birds, such as eastern bluebirds, wood thrushes, northern mockingbirds, and wild turkeys. Leaves and twigs are nibbled by deer.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used the roots to brew a tea for treating urinary tract infections and stomach problems. Later, parts of the plant were used to treat dandruff, constipation, malaria, and liver disorders.
Caution: all of the plant parts are slightly toxic and may result in vomiting, diarrhea, chills, or coma if eaten in large quantities.
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