Alatus, or Winged Euonymus, or Burning Bush, or Spindle Tree is a tough
plant I often dislike, even though it is banned in Massachusetts. 'Euonymus' means 'of good reputation'
and 'Alatus' means 'winged'.
I can see the 'of good reputation' in the clan of plants called
'Euonymus'. I can see the little Creeping Euonymus, un-variegated,
happily climbing a stucco wall, until the painters arrive. I can see
the lushness of Euonymus Manhattan, with that slight blue in late spring
concealing errors in masonry, until Deer discover it. And I can see
lattice embraced joyously by the large leaves of Climbing Euonymus, until
in early summer eggs of that little wasp hatch and the plant is reduced to
a sooty mess.
The 'winged' part of Euonymus
Alatus can be understood from a look at the shape of its woodier parts,
which have ribs and sometimes fins running laterally. In late Fall the plant
can be laden with red berries, and is a favorite haunt for the Close
Mockingbird. Otherwise the plant just sits there turning to awkward
red at the end of the year, because the poor thing was clipped into a bush
when it was young.
About this time of year,
sometime ago, I woke up on railway property. I had chosen to ignore a sternly
written warning to "Keep Out" so as to find shelter from elements in a shed where railway maintenance parts
were kept. Through the broken window I could see on the edge of an
evergreen copse a Euonymus Alatus which was indeed a Spindle Tree. I
watched it move in the wind from passing commuter trains. It was a
splendid red and without shame. And it did seem to spin as it moved in
a way that kept me in that shed waiting for the next train to come instead
of getting on about my business. I thought it quite
Here in Kentucky the Burning Bush beside the
house has produced a number of runaways. I can find them struggling
against Honeysuckle and Blackberry in those transient parts of ground
between pasture and woodland. Invariably these young things get
nibbled by foragers, or clipped by mowing machines.
I could try to encourage one of them to
become a Spindle Tree. Direct others away from it. Protect it
from its world as a good shepherd might. Watch it grow tall until it
matched my idea of it. Then wait for the wind. But most likely,
I would always have that sense of it being a Burning Bush, escaped from a
golf course, or a hospital, or an interstate rest stop, instead of a moment
that belongs to time that is gone.