Garden Adventurer: The Sneaky Strawberry Bush

The flashy fruit pods of strawberry bush salute the arrival of autumn.

If you like sneaky plants, let strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) surprise you. How? For starters, the name seems to imply a larger, bushier version of the field-grown, spring fruits, but it is not. Also, for most of the growing season, it is hardly noticed, and then, with the arrival of autumn, BOOM! It can’t be ignored.

The shifty tale of the strawberry bush (also known as hearts-a-busting) begins in the local brush, meaning the backwoods of the eastern U.S., where it is a native understory subshrub that likes to inhabit moist, open forests and shady river banks. Being a gangly, skinny plant that only reaches about 5 to 6 feet high and wide, it is easy to miss. Even its spring flower show of tiny, greenish-yellow blooms attracts little attention.

In the fall, however, pollinated blooms morph into small, bumpy fruit pods that brighten to a brash magenta and split open to expose fire engine red berries. BOOM! This dazzling display is then followed by the deciduous leaves creating an encore by turning a smoldering scarlet to finish the strawberry bush’s autumn show.

It prefers moist soils in the wild, but strawberry bush can adapt to almost any in-ground cultivated environment. Heck, mine have done just  ne sprouting up in tough clay dirt. Light shade is preferred, although it doesn’t mind also basking in morning sun.

The berries will be enjoyed by friendly fliers such as bluebirds, wood thrushes and mockingbirds, but definitely don’t be tempted to try them yourself. They will put your tummy in a real twist.

Now, let’s talk deer. Being native, strawberry bush is a tough survivor in the wild — that is, except when deer are around. The plant is quite a delicacy for them, so if you have had problems with deer in the past, be forewarned that without fencing or regular sprayings of repellent, deer will have your hostas for a salad and your strawberry bushes for their main course!

In spite of its appealing autumn beauty, strawberry bush is not a common sight in the retail garden centers. However, Cure Nursery (, a nifty native plant shop near Pittsboro does sell them. They are open by appointment only, so you will have to call ahead. As far as finding strawberry bush online, TyTy Nursery ( in Georgia and The Shop at Monticello ( in Virginia offer it.

Timely Tip

Burning bush can be a bear to control.

The popular burning bush (Euonymus alatus), a close cousin to strawberry bush, is a large shrub (up to 10 feet high and wide) that’s valued for its flaming autumn leaves, but it can be a real brute in the garden and beyond.

Classified as an invasive species in North Carolina, this native of eastern China can readily seed about and displace native plants in the wild. Picking off its berries as they ripen will slow its spread, but this is a tedious task.

Indigenous alternatives that can give the same visual bang in fall foliage include Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica).

To Do in the Garden


  • Onion seeds and garlic bulbs are about the only edibles that are normally introduced to the veggie patch at this time of year, but if you want to take a chance nasty cold spells will hold off, go ahead and plant another round of spinach, lettuce, Chinese cabbage or kale early this month.
  • To save space and keep the garden looking tidy, plant spring-blooming bulbs among herbaceous perennials such as daylilies, hostas, ferns or Solomon’s seal. These plants will sprout and grow just in time to help hide the fading foliage of your bulbous beauties in the spring.
  • If you have a garden area dedicated to spring-flowering bulbs, and dogs or squirrels consider it their dedicated digging site, prevent access by spreading small-mesh chicken wire over the bed after planting your pretties-to-be. Adding a covering of mulch will insulate the sleeping bulbs over the winter months and also keep the site from looking industrially ugly.

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