Spindle bush, burning bush

The spindle bush, also known as the burning bush, appears incospicuous at first, but unravels its full beauty in fall. Read on to know what you need to consider when planting and caring for the individual species and varieties.


The spindle bush (Euonymus), also known as the burning bush, belongs to the geologically very old plant family of the staff-vine plants (Celastraceae). They were already at home in the tertiary on the American and European continents as well as on Greenland. Today there are around 175 species in Asia, North and Central America, Europe, Australia and Madagascar.

The pretty trees bear the name spindle bush, as spindles used to be made from their wood. Under the name "burning bush" you will find what you are looking for in the nursery, because some species have fine bark strips on the branches.

Most varieties of the burning bush are deciduous shrubs or small trees, some are evergreen and spread over creeping branches in the ground or climb up tree trunks, rocks or walls with adhesive roots. The only native species is the European spindle (Euonymus europaea). It is widespread from the lowlands to the Alps and thrives in alluvial forests, on hedge banks and also on dry forest edges. It prefers sunny to partially shaded locations with humus and nutrient-rich, heavy soils.

Appearance and Growth
Burning bush (Euonymus alatus)

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in fall colors

The Spindle Bush grows up to 6.56 to 16.4 feet high, depending on the species, and with age forms a spreading crown with often dense branches. The garden forms Fortune’s spindle (Euonymus fortunei) can reach similar heights with a suitable climbing aid, but usually remain smaller. A typical distinguishing feature of all Spindle bushes are the square branches: The bark of most species is covered with four times stronger, but faintly distinguishable cork strips. The largest “wings” are seen in the burning bush (Euonymus alatus), also known aswinged spindle . The leaves of the plant are usually alternately arranged, relatively small and round to oblong-oval. All deciduous species show an intense orange to red leaf color which appear radiant in fall. The evergreen Climbing spindle also turns its leaves slightly pink to red in fall and winter.

The greenish yellow flowers of the spindle bush appear in May and are astonishingly small and inconspicuous. The fruits, on the other hand, are quite conspicuous in taller species. They resemble a biretta, the headgear of Catholic cardinals, in shape and color - hence the somewhat disparaging German common name "Pfaffenhütchen". The four-compartment capsules are quite common, each contain an orange-colored fruiting body (aril) that surrounds the white or black seeds. The fruits are extremely poisonous for humans, but are highly valued as food by birds, especially robins. After the leaves have fallen, the burning bush has another attraction: Then the corky ridges of the bark become visible.

Burning bush fruits

Location and Soil

Choose a sunny spot in the garden for the Burning bush. The shrub also thrives in partial shade, but here the leaves don't turn so intensely bright in fall. Otherwise the spindle bush is quite frugal and thrives well in any garden soil. The native burning bush even tolerates heavy, wet soil. All varieties form dense fine roots, most of which are in the topsoil. Therefore, do not plant shrubs or bulb flowers under the bushes.


In principle, the Spindle bush can be planted all year round - as long as the ground is not frozen. The main flowering period is either in spring or fall. Loosen the soil up to a considerable depth at the planting site and dig a large hole. Plant the burning bush and then press the soil firmly into place. Water it thoroughly in the end.

Care Tips

You can promote the growth of fruits with a bit of compost. The European spindle and the large-fruited burning bush, are particularly abundant, especially when several shrubs grow together and can pollinate each other.


The evergreen varieties of the Fortune’s spindle can be maintained by using hedge clippers. They can also handle deeper rejuvenation cuts right into the old wood. The other species of the Spindle shrub can also be pruned, but they look the best when they are left to grow uncut.

Overwintering or Winter Protection

With the exception of the Japanese spindle (Euonymus japonicus), which in our part of the world can only survive winter in covered places, the plant is quite frost-resistant.

Where to plant in the garden
Burning bush

The color of the foliage of the Burning bush in fall is spectacular

The taller spindle bushes are ideal when planted as individual plants, because of their magnificent fall colors and their picture-perfect crown shape. Due to their relatively high shade tolerance, they can also be planted under the spread out crowns of larger trees, but the abundance of fruits and autumn colors are not quite as pronounced there. The low, sweeping winged burning bush with its early onset, pink-red foliage looks great even in fall shrub beds. Great garden images result in combinations with yellow-stemmed such as the moor grass (Molinia), the blue flowers of the autumn monkshood (Aconitum) or larkspur (Delphinium) that blooms for a second time. The winged burning bush can also be cultivated in large planters or planted in rock gardens that are not too dry. The European spindle is suitable, among other things, for natural gardens, free-growing bird protection hedges, and even for planting outdoors.

Important Species and Varieties

In the garden, three species are important: The large fruited (Euonymus planipes), the winged (Euonymus alatus) and the European spindle (Euonymus europaeus). The first two are characterized by a particularly intense fall color. They are best planted as individual shrubs, where the grow beautifully when they are not pruned. The winged burned bush grows slower than its relatives and is wider in width. It only reaches a height of 9.84 feet, the ‘Compactus’ variety even only reaches 3.28 feet and is therefore also suitable as a container plant.

The varieties of the evergreen Crawling Spindle are among the most robust and shade-friendly surface greeners in the entire range of trees. That is why they are often planted in parks and in public green spaces. You can also green shaded house walls with yellow-colored varieties such as ‘Emerald’n Gold’ or ‘Emerald Gaiety’. They rarely reach a height of more than 6.56 feet. The two varieties hardly ever bear fruit, but when they do, their relationship with the burning bush becomes clear. Some small-leaved varieties such as ‘Minimus’ are very popular as easy-care, ground-covering grave plants. The large-leaved ‘Vegetus’ variety is also suitable for low hedges and borders.

Creeping Spindle ‘Emerald'n Gold’

Creeping Spindles, the ‘Emerald'n Gold’ variety, slowly climb up along the climbing aids


The European spindle can be easily propagated by sowing. To do this, you collect the ripe fruiting bodies and leave them in the water for a week so that the pulp detaches from the seeds. Then it is sown immediately in boxes or directly in the field, with germination not taking place until next spring. The sowing of the other wild species is more difficult and usually very tedious. Therefore, in many species, grafting in late winters is preferred to seedlings of the European spindle. The varieties of the evergreen creeper, on the other hand, can all be propagated very easily by cuttings.

Diseases and Pests

The European spindle is susceptible to powdery mildew. The Spindle bush can also be attacked by various pests, for example felt gall mites, lilac moths, spider moths, mulberry whiteflies and the spindle tree leaf-edge mite, which causes a conspicuous damage pattern with arched leaf edges. The evergreen species are particularly susceptible to the furrowed black weevil and the spindle-headed scale louse. However, none of the pests mentioned causes an alarming damage.

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