By: Amy Grant
Strawberry bush euonymus (Euonymus americanus) is a plant native to the southeastern United States and categorized in the Celastraceae family. Growing strawberry bushes are referred to by several other names including: hearts-a-busting, hearts filled with love, and brooke euonymus, with the former two a reference to its unique blossoms resembling tiny breaking hearts.
Strawberry bush euonymus is a deciduous plant with a thicket-like habit of around 6 feet (2 m.) tall by 3 to 4 feet (1 m.) wide. Found in forested or woodland areas as an understory plant and often in swampy areas, strawberry bush has inconspicuous cream-hued blooms with 4-inch (10 cm.) serrated leaves on green stems.
The plant’s autumn fruit (September through October) is the real show stopper, with warty scarlet capsules that burst open to reveal orange berries while the foliage morphs into a yellowish green shade.
Now that we have nailed down what it is, learning how to grow a strawberry bush appears to be the next order of business. Growing strawberry bushes can occur in USDA zones 6-9.
The plant flourishes in partial shade, preferring conditions similar to those of its natural habitat, including moist soil. As such, this specimen works well in a mixed native planted border, as an informal hedge, as part of woodland mass plantings, as a wildlife habitat and for its showy fruit and foliage in the autumn.
Propagation is attained by seed. Seeds from this Euonymus species need to be cold stratified for at least three or four months, either wrapped in a damp paper towel, then in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or naturally stratified just under the surface of the soil outside during winter months. Cuttings for growing strawberry bushes may also be rooted year round and the plant itself is easy to divide and multiply.
Water the young plants well and continue to water moderately thereafter. Otherwise, this slow to moderately growing bush is reasonably drought tolerant.
Strawberry bush euonymus needs only light fertilization.
Some resources report that this varietal is prone to the same pests (such as scale and whiteflies) as other Euonymus plants, like burning bush. What is certain is that this plant is intoxicating to deer populations and they can indeed decimate the foliage and tender shoots when browsing.
The strawberry bush is also prone to suckering, which may be pruned or left to grow as in nature.
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Euonymus americana goes by several common names, including American strawberry-bush, hearts-a-burstin', and bursting heart. Regardless of which name you call it, this plant is a choice selection for shady areas in native and wildlife gardens.
Strawberry bush is native over much of eastern North America. Its range stretches from New York down to Florida and then west to Oklahoma and east Texas. A member of the Celastraceae (bittersweet) family, it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Specimens usually grow from 4 to 8 feet tall and sucker to form clumps. Inconspicuous flowers are followed by showy seed capsules.
The flowers themselves will likely be missed unless a person is consciously looking for them. However, upon close inspection, they are quite intriguing. Flowers are only about a third of an inch wide, and they stretch out on relatively long pedicels and lie flat against the leaves. Five roundish, veined petals that are pale yellow and sometimes blushed with a purplish to reddish cast surround a smooth, round disk-shaped device that covers the ovary. A small, yellow, pollen-producing anther is affixed to the disk-shaped device between each petal, making five in all. A tiny stigma pokes through the center of the disk, all sticky and ready to be pollinated by a passing insect.
It is the seed capsules that give the plant its common names and makes it a standout in the fall garden or woods. They will not be missed, even by the most casual observers. Very unique, four-lobed warty, scarlet capsules encase four to five bright red, pulpy seeds. When the capsules burst open, the seeds are revealed. The seeds remain attached to the pod for a few weeks.
Leaves of the strawberry bush are two to three inches long and have finely-toothed margins. In fall they turn shades of orange and red, prolonging the show well into the fall. Identification is easy, even in winter, when one encounters the four-angled, green stems that are obvious in an otherwise brown landscape.
Strawberry bush is at home in damp woodlands underneath the shade of taller trees, so do your best to simulate its natural habitat. Provide humus-rich, well-drained but moist, slightly acid soil, and part to full shade. This native plant is usually pest and disease resistant, but Euonymus scale and crown gall can be problematic in home landscapes.
Propagation is easy from cuttings. Either greenwood cuttings taken in summer or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in fall root easily if placed in damp soil or sharp sand. Clumps can be divided, if desired. Starting from seeds is a bit trickier, as seeds must be given about three months of cold treatment before being planted. One reference recommends picking the seed capsules just before they split open, and then drying the seeds out on a screen. After that, store in sealed containers in the refrigerator for about three months and then plant. This treatment simulates what would happen naturally in a normally cold winter followed by warmer spring and summer weather.
Strawberry Bush in the Landscape
When placing strawberry bush in the landscape, remember its natural occurrence under the shade of tall trees. Place it in such a place, but get it near a path or edge where its interesting fruits can be observed at close range. Expect the strawberry bush to form a modest clump, but don't worry about it spreading in unwanted places, for it is not even moderately aggressive and would certainly never be considered invasive.
Strawberry bush is an excellent addition to a wildlife garden. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds can be seen nectaring on the blossoms, and the seeds are eaten by several species of birds and small mammals. The foliage is very popular with the deer population, which may or may not be a good quality for a landscape plant. Fruits have served several medicinal purposes, especially for the Native Americans, but they are poisonous and should not be consumed.
Several relatives of the strawberry bush include Euonymus atropurpurea (wahoo), an understory woodland species that is native to the eastern United States. Euonymus alata (burning bush or winged Euonymus) is a Chinese native that is invasive in certain areas and even prohibited in some states. Euonymus fortunei (wintercreeper) is a popular groundcover that is native to China, Korea, and Japan. It, too, has invasive tendencies in some portions of its hardiness range. Euonymus europaea, a European native, has also escaped cultivation in parts of the United States.
As usual, choosing native plants eliminates the possibility of introducing another exotic invasive species to our woodlands. Both the wahoo and the strawberry bush are excellent choices in areas where they are hardy. That is not to say that we don't have some perfectly wonderful exotics that are dependable landscape specimens. Unfortunately, the Euonymus species that come from China, Korea, and Japan, due to their tendency to become invasive, may not be the best choice for environmentally sensitive landscapes.
Thanks to raisedbedbob for his image of strawberry bush blooming in the landscape,
and to watercan2 for the excellent close-up of the flower.
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
Seed is poisonous if ingested
Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From seed stratify if sowing indoors
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Louisville, Kentucky(2 reports)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana(3 reports)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Roaring River, North Carolina
Rutherfordton, North Carolina
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Fredericksburg, Virginia(2 reports)
On Oct 11, 2020, Aluapede from Newark, NJ wrote:
I found today a gourgeous plant with exotic fruit in red deep pink and orange. After a research I found the name which is Bursting Hear. The plant is in Union city at Nomahegan Park. I took some photos. The plant is tiny and small. I will be back to verify its growth.
On Jun 22, 2014, Rickwebb from Downingtown, PA wrote:
Jenkins Arboretum in southeast Pennsylvania has several plantings of this nice native plant of fine or fine-medium texture. I like this Hearts-A-Burstin or Strawberry-bush or American Burningbush much better than the over-planted, extremely thick growing Winged Euonymus Burningbush from northeast Asia.
On Sep 25, 2013, Clint07 from Bethlehem, PA wrote:
Growing for maybe 8 years in the shade of old, tall sycamores in 6A, this beauty has reached a height of 8 feet. With tree leaves starting to fall now (late September), it's reached its peak of gaudiness. This year it has retained almost all of its capsules, moreso than previous years.
We have it growing amid a row of Skimmia japonica, whose berries have also reddened. A great show, and no one else in our neighborhood of good gardeners has either of them.
On Sep 21, 2012, Rebeccatowoc from Stewart, TN wrote:
We were camping at our future retirement homesite (Houston County, TN) when we came across this green-twigged plant with strange fruit. Not able to identify it at the time, we hated the idea of it being destroyed during construction and so attempted to move it. This effort turned into such a brutal struggle that we feared the odd shrub would not survive. It was so weak I put it on a trellis and tried to cut away some surrounding tree branches so it would get a little sun. Bit by bit the plant grew stronger (and I found out what it was.) This past summer I was afraid to go back into the brush to check on it because we've had so many snakes this year, and feared the plant had died during the drought. Yesterday it was cool enough to go back there and I am delighted to report the "hearts. read more -a-burstin' " has added branches and put out a great crop of larger fruit than ever. Apparently it likes dry shade!
On Oct 5, 2009, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:
On Oct 11, 2007, WaterCan2 from Eastern Long Island, NY (Zone 7a) wrote:
It definetly likes it moist and semi-shady. I have them in a spot where they get the pm sun. A dependable performer it stays inconspicuous until fall when it steals the show!
* Special thanks to "TomH3787 and plantladylin" for identifying it for me, I did'nt know what it was!!
On Jan 8, 2007, passiflora_pink from Central, AL (Zone 8a) wrote:
Beautiful fruits! Really brightens the autumn and early winter flower bed in Alabama.
On Jul 24, 2006, aprilwillis from Missouri City, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:
I had planted the parent plant in what I thought was adequate shade and when it became clear to me that the plant would not survive I gave it to my daughter in the process I dislodged a small stem w/ only 2 leaves at the distal end. I potted that stem - thinking it would never root it has flourished in a small pot in deep shade and is a very attractive plant.
On Jan 22, 2006, ViburnumValley from Scott County, KY (Zone 5b) wrote:
I have observed that the strawberry bush grows primarily on soils on the acid side of neutral, whereas its cousin the eastern wahoo is primarily found on circumneutral or limestone-based soils. Strawberry bush also seems to appreciate more shade, where eastern wahoo can happily grow in much sunnier drier sites. A partner in woodlands with Viburnum acerifolium and Lindera benzoin, Euonymus americanus is a fine little indigenous shrub that is a beneficial addition to any native landscape.
On Sep 15, 2004, MinnieBee from Columbus, GA wrote:
I found this plant growing in the woods where we live (Columbus, GA). Had no idea what it was until I saw it growing at Callaway Gardens (Pine Mountain, GA) and it was labelled 'Strawberry Bush'. I moved the plant out of the woods into our yard in a partial sun location. That was 3 years ago and it's doing great. Also found another one growing in the woods and moved it to another partial sun location in our yard last fall, but the deer also found it! This one has not done as well as the other one. I have noticed that the first one is planted near our pond and the other one is in the front yard where I have to water it more. The first one stays green, flowers, and now has lots of red seed pods on it. The one in the front will be moved this fall to the back near the pond. It has no seed po. read more ds and very few leaves.
On Sep 13, 2004, Toxicodendron from Piedmont, MO (Zone 6a) wrote:
A delightful native plant that doesn't get noticed until it reveals it's hot pink fruit capsules with orange-red seeds in late summer. Usually grows in the shady understory of larger trees along streams. Deer and rabbits love to eat it and turkeys enjoy the fruits. The seeds have a laxative effect and the bark induces vomiting, among other purported uses. This plant is rare in Missouri but is common in many other states from Florida and Texas to New York and Indiana.
On Jun 18, 2004, Fran99 from Spartanburg, SC wrote:
Inconspicuous shrub except in fruit. Lovely find in wooded areas.
On May 16, 2004, raisedbedbob from Walkerton, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:
This plant, also known as "Hearts-a -Bustin" is native to Zone 7b. The inconspicuous pale yellow flowers are followed in the fall by spectacular magenta capsules containing bright orange seeds. It is a delightful sight in the otherwise dull understory of the fall forest in this region.
Strawberry plants are divided into three categories: June-bearing, which produce the most flavorful berries everbearing, which typically provide two main crops each year and day neutral, which flower and fruit consistently throughout the summer. Strawberry shapes vary from oblate to conic to necked or wedge, and cultivars can produce berries of different shapes depending upon the climate in which they're grown. he type of cultivar appropriate for a particular environment depends upon preference and growing conditions. For example, "Diamante" is sensitive to rain damage, the "Camarosa" is relatively resistant, while the "Camino Real" is highly tolerant of rain damage.
After the last strawberry has been picked, prune the plants. Removing the leaves just above the crown will help the plant conserve energy during the growing months before the second harvest in the spring. If the leaves are not diseased or damaged, you can cut them into smaller pieces and work them into the soil around the strawberry plants. Pull out weeds and weak strawberry plants -- these plants will take precious nutrients away from the soil that the strawberry plants need.
Strawberrybush, or Hearts-a-Bustin’, is a unique, rhizomatous shrub with an unusual form that occurs in shady woodlands throughout the Southeast to Eastern Texas. Plants are 4-6 feet tall and multi-stemmed. The individual shoots are pencil-like and green with little branching. Leaves are long (
2 inches), opposite, and lance-shaped, colorful in fall. Most of the season it blends in with plants in woodlands or wood edges, with somewhat inconspicuous 5-parted flowers occurring in late spring. Then in the fall it makes a statement with it’s bright orange-to-scarlet berries dangling from warty, pink capsules. It is not a long-lived plant, but spreads easily by rhizomes providing the gardener with ready replacements. Although the berries are not edible by people (a very strong laxative), they support songbirds, wild turkeys and small mammals. Deer do adore to eat the stems and leaves of this plant, so much so that the presence of Strawberrybush is an indicator of low deer pressure.