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The Monday Garden
Invaders: Barberry and Winged Euonymus

Issue No. 112 - May 16, 2004
by Sue Sweeney

And the winners for “Most Controversial Invaders” are Winged Euonymus (euonymus alatus) and Japanese Barberry (berberis thunergii).

picture: winged euonymus escaping through a fence on Morgan Street, Stamford CT

The controversy: These two shrubs are found along virtually all suburban streets and in only too many industrial parks. Unfortunately, they are also equally at home in our remaining wild lands. Some invaders (e.g loosestrife) that have are so widespread that discouraged environmentalists talk of “control” rather than “eradication”. However, many believe that it’s not too late to save the woods from this duo IF we weren’t combating constant re-introduction from the gardens.
The conservationists want to ban new sales of both bushes but the nurseries (and many are small, local businesses) would take a big financial hit. They point out that the newer cultivars are not showing up in the woods. Well, that made be true, but the conservationists believe that the hybrids’ seeds are reverting to the older types. Further, they say, an effective clean up can’t happen without a massive, voluntary re-landscaping effort, and how realistic is that? (Thought: if there was such a re-landscaping, the nurseries would get to sell the replacements!)


Barberry is a lovely, if thorny, small shrub (6’ max.). It was imported from Asia in the 1800’s; it graced the front porch of the house where I grew up. The original plant had green tear-drop shaped leaves, delicate yellow flowers in early spring, and red berries in the fall. The hybrids include green-leafed varieties with blue or yellow over-tones, and the very popular burgundy-red version . If it doubt, you can tell barberry by scratching through a bit of the outer bark – the inner bark is yellow; so are the roots. Barberry is often hedge-clipped which can significantly reduce seed production but unfortunately there’s often a few left and hungry winter birds will find them.


Picture: Stamford apartment garden, Stamford 2004


Winged euonymus, imported from Asia in the mid-1800’s is famous for its “corky wings” on the mature twigs and for its neon fall color. A spring ID-point is the curvy shape of the new twigs. Winged euonymus is particularly a problem in the wild because it can grow to 15’ and its dense root mass kills everything else, even its own babies.


Fall colors


picture: New twigs, Chester Street, Stamford, April 2004


Picture: winged euonymus branch structure and flower, Chester Street, Stamford CT 2004


I know we can clean the existing stuff out of the woods; I’ve done it.


picture: noted Stamford conservationist Jeff Cordulack, resting after our volunteer team cleared several acres of open woods
in a land trust in North Stamford of both bushes in a day, using only our hands and a chain saw for the few really big ones.

Smaller plants can be hand pulled. If you get them before this year’s seeds form, simply up-end the plants in piles. This way, the roots can’t re-attach and the brush piles make good wildlife habitat. If there are seeds present, seal in black plastic bags and leave in the sun for a few months to sterilize. You do need to check back for several years for new babies from lingering seeds and root fragments.

Use a weed wrench on larger bushes. A what? A weed wrench is a very cool device invented by some even cooler self-described “tree people” who call themselves the “The New Tribe”. It gives a small person the leverage to take out a big shrub.

The big ones, however, have to be sawed to the ground. (Guys: here’s your chance to wield a chain saw!) But the roots will re-sprout, so here’s an almost-justified use of 'cides. They say that you can effectively PAINT (not spray, PAINT!) a small amount of “Bush-Be-Gon” or “Round-Up” (forgive me if I get the names wrong – I never use the stuff) on the stumps to kill the roots. However, remember you’re handling a DANGEROUS AND DEADLY POISON. So:

• Follow the label –the law says that you have to exactly follow the directions on the label.

• Buy the smallest possible amount so that you don’t have left-overs creating a hazardous waste problem.

• Dilute per the label – they say that too strong a mix will kill the top of the root without get all the way down.

• Use protective clothing, gloves, and safety glasses, don’t spill any or let it get down the drain, etc.


Picture: winged euonymus sneaking into a small park on Chester Street, Stamford, CT, Spring 2004

From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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