Euonymus - Spindle

Euonymus is a genus of flowering plants in the staff vine family, Celastraceae. Common names vary widely among different species and between different English-speaking countries, but include spindle tree, burning-bush, strawberry-bush, wahoo. It comprises about 130 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, small trees. Mostly native to East Asia, extending to the Himalayas, and they are also distributed in Europe, Australasia, North America, and Madagascar.

Euonymus europaeus bushes in a garden


The inconspicuous flowers occur in small groups, and can be green, yellow, pink or maroon in colour depending on species. The leaves are opposite and simple ovoid, typically 2 – 15 cm long, and usually with a finely serrated margin. The fruit is a pink or white four- or five- pod-like berries, which split open to reveal the fleshy-coated orange or red seeds.

The seeds are eaten by birds, which digest the fleshy seed coat and disperse the seeds in their droppings. Many species are used for medicinal use, and parts of the plants can be poisonous to humans.

The wood of some species was traditionally used for the making of spindles for spinning wool; thus the origin of the British English name

Euonymus are popular garden shrubs, grown for their foliage, the deciduous species often exhibiting very bright red autumnal colours, and also for the decorative berries. Most gardeners are familiar with Euonymous fortunei varieties but they are not considered suitable for bonsai cultivation. However there are a number very suitable that make excellent bonsai; these include;

Euonymous alatus - Winged Spindle.
This is a dense bushy shrub with ovate, toothed dark-green leaves up to 7cm long that turn a brilliant dark-red in Autumn rivalling the Autumnal displays of Japanese Maples. Small orange fruits are carried on the undersides of the branches and the ridged bark has strange cork 'wings.' Originating from woodland and thickets in China and Japan, the winged spindle can reach heights of 2metres with a 3metre spread.

Euonymous europaeus - European spindle tree
Very similar to alatus, it is a broadly conical deciduous shrub or small tree with spreading, slightly pendant shoots. It bears oval, scalloped dark-green leaves up to 7cm long that again have a beautiful red autumnal colour.

Euonymous sieboldianus - Japanese spindle
This is a tree-like, deciduous shrub bearing ovate, scalloped, mid-green leaves up to 12cm long, sometimes with sharp points. The leaves turn yellow, pink or red in autumn and displays pink-white fruit. The Japanese spindle is more vigorous than the others, reaching heights of up to 6metres in its native Korea and Japan.

When grown as bonsai:

Position in good light but without too much direct sun. Euonymous are hardy but require some frost protection when temperatures drop very low; they do not like freezing. Feed regularly from spring to late summer; for even better autumn colour withdraw nitrogen from mid-summer onwards.

Repot every year in spring as new buds extend. Trim new growth back to 2 or 3 leaves in spring and continue to trim throughout the growing season. For very tight foliage and short internodes, pinch out top of buds as they extend. As they bud excessively from the trunk, ensure you only retain those buds you require for the style you are creating, pinching off the others.

Pests and diseases: these plants are often attacked by caterpillars and are susceptible to mildew if lacking good ventilation and air movement.



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