The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 14, 2006


(Photo by Kay Fairweather)

Biodiversity Corner

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Opening lines ofThe Waste Land
by T.S. Eliot

April is national poetry month but that is not what makes it cruel. We have the IRS and Heartbreak Hill for that. Eliot's phrase, the "mixing of memory and desire" provides a departure point for the topic of burning bush, which is high on the list of invasive introduced plants that claim habitat from native plants and could eventually replace them completely. Will there come a time when the diversity of our eco-systems is only a memory and our desire to restore it is unattainable? Will every month be cruel?

Name:The burning bush is Euonymus alata. It is also known as the winged Euonymus. It is native to China and Japan and was introduced to the U.S. around 1860.

When and where seen: It would be quicker to list the places in town where there is no burning bush. It is along the roadsides and is in the conservation lands. There are thickets on School Street and in the woods around the Poole swamp.

Characteristics: The burning bush does have some good characteristics or none of us would have planted it in the first place. It is inexpensive, trouble-free and deciduous. When grown in the sun, it produces flaming fall foliage and berries for the birds. It is easily recognized this time of year by the brown "wings" on the green twigs and younger branches. The opposite buds make a symmetric pattern of breaks in the wings. The problem with burning bush is that it out-competes native plants in meadows, woodlands, and mature forests. It is tolerant of sun and full shade and many different soil types.

Actions you can take:

The small "wings" on each side of the branch are typical of burning bush. The leaves, bright red in the fall, develop from the tiny buds. (Photo by Kay Fairweather)

1. Rid your property of these shrubs. There are two more weeks in the burning season. You could cut large shrubs, pull seedlings up by their roots, commit them to the flames and allow them to finally fulfill the promise of their name.

2. Spread the word. Many of us have burning bush in our landscapes because we didn't know anything about the negative implications.

3. Don't patronize nurseries that sell burning bush — or bittersweet or Norway maple — and let the management know why.

4. Plant native species. You can still get fall color and provide berries for the birds, and if you like flowering shrubs you can do much better than burning bush.

Landscape alternatives: New England Wildflower Society, NEWFS, recommends the following: Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry), Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet), Cornus spp. (shrub dogwoods), Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire), Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Vaccinium corymbosum (Highbush Blueberry), Viburnum nudum (Witherod) and Viburnum prunifolium (Possum haw).NEWFS has excellent information on eco-friendly substitutes for burning bush and other rampant invasives in the Frequently Asked Questions section (

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. What are you seeing in the woods or in your yard — other than burning bush? Write a few notes about your observation. Send sightings, photos, or the whole column to Kay Fairweather at

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito