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My Hearts-A-Bustin

Deep in deciduous woods from southern New York to Florida and as far west as Oklahoma and eastern Texas, there grows an unassuming native shrub with a certain pathos about its name. In Greek mythology Euonyme was the mother of the deities who caused suffering in everyday life, and Euonymus americanus grows most prolifically in Appalachian regions where tough topography and poverty traditionally make life difficult.

The shrub is also commonly called strawberry bush and hearts-a-bustin. It's easy to see why.
In early fall the seed pods turn from green to pink. Resembling wild strawberries, they are warty looking and about the size of acorns. As they open to reveal scarlet seedheads, the capsules split into heart shaped segments. The fruit are decorative, and I first fell in love with this plant when I came across a specimen covered with the interesting capsules. 

Early this year, I made the difficult decision to remove the agressive nandina domestica from my woodland garden, and I planted a variety of shrubs in its place. This was a great opportunity to try Hearts-a-bustin in my own garden. I like it because it is native to my region and because it is not aggressive, unlike its non-native cousin Euonymus alata, also called burning bush, which in some areas is very aggressive. Hearts-a-bustin will put out suckers and can form thickets, but it will not spread wildly through the forest or displace other plants. 

Euonymus americanus has thin green stems and an open, airy habit to about six feet tall. The deciduous shrub produces two to three inch lance shaped green leaves. Tiny yellow-green, star shaped flowers appear in the spring. They are beautiful, but you have to look at the flowers closely to appreciate them. Bees love the flowers, and deer will browse upon the leaves. I am fortunate that my woodland garden is in the middle of a small city, so I don't have to worry about the deer! Some birds will eat the seeds, but they can be poisonous to humans if eaten in large quantities, and they are also said to be poisonous to sheep. 

In September through October the understated shrub assumes the spotlight as its seed capsules dangle like bright ornaments.The leaves also are beautiful as fall advances, becoming translucent white, washed with shades of red and orange.

This shrub should be planted beside a path so one can easily appreciate its charms. It is a terrific low maintenance shrub - pest free and drought tolerant! It is comfortable in the woodland setting and grows best in sun dappled shade in humus rich, slightly acid soil.

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Reader Comments (26)

The seed capsules are so unusual and weird looking. I guess I never saw this plant in fruit before. I have stayed away from planting euonymus because of the burning bush problem. I'm glad to learn there is more than burning bush in this family. I love to read and learn something!

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

I've heard of this shrub and love its colloquial name. I love it when a really ordinary shrub has incredibly interesting fruit, seeds, flowers, etc. It reminds me to never assume 'averageness' just because something, or someone, doesn't seem extraordinary. Great post!!!

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

Wonderful seed capsules but one question, are they deer resistant?

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjoene

Hi Joene, thanks for stopping by! I don't think the deer eat the seed capsules, but they love the twigs and leaves!

September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

yes Deb, they look good and attractive, but will the birds eat the fruits too? Somehow it reminds me of the round Momordica charantia or our wild ampalaya/bitter gourd. They are yellow orange but burst like that when ripe. The seeds though are red.

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

The farm grows acres of burning bush and I do realize its environmental problems. They are a sight to see in Fall with the fields aglow. The grower sells so many of them it literally amazes me how many. They are often used as hedges and are quite stunning in fall as a hedge. The native shrub is also on the farm, but not grown on purpose. I never really thought to photograph the pretty pods.

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Gorgeous colors, some of my favorite combos. We had a Euyon. tree, in the nursery that had the most beautiful fruit in late summer. Always wanted one.

Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

Hello, everybody! I appreciate all of your comments! Andrea, yes, birds will eat the fruit. In my area, wild turkey as well as mockingbirds and other songbirds will eat them.

September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Lovely post and beautiful pictures of the seed pods!

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan@Holly Grove

That's a gorgeous shrub Deb, another one to add to the list :)

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

What a beautiful native! I would love to add this to my garden. I need more space. Maybe I can buy the house next door and tear it down to make more garden. One can dream. I think taking out that bamboo was a very good decision. Look at your garden now!

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthevioletfern

I love this shrub!

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

What fantastic seed capsules , colour, shape and texturewise ! So unusual, must see if it can be obtained over here in the UK.

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

I love this shrub but unfortunately so do the deer! The fruits are fantastic, and a bush covered in them is a vision.

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

I ran up on one in my woods last fall! I hope to find it again. I had thought it was some crazy name like Wahooo or something like that!! Ha ha ha! I guess I'll have to put on the old boots and take a hike! The photos are beautiful Deb!!

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEve

Great photos Deb. Thanks for sharing about this shrub. It is new to me.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Deb this is beautiful, it reminds me of spindle berry which I think is a native over here, it's also an euonymus, the fruits are smooth unlike your textured fruits, I love your stories about your plants and their histories thanks for taking the time, I'm glad you are enjoying the fruits of your hardwork removing the invader and replanting with more friendly plants, Frances

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Great profile of this wonderful native shrub. I have heard of it but have never seen it or found it for sale. Certainly very showy.

I love their bright color. Always brightens up any garden or landscape design.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLandscaping_Katy

I am constantly amazed that there are plants so similar in such far apart places in the world. Your Euonymus americanus is obviously closely related to our Euonymus europea! Ours will also be flowering soon as is to be seen wild in the countryside brightening the hedgerows with their amazing berries! We don’t call them strawberry bushes, though, as that’s the name reserved for the Arbutus tree. Also fascinating how Nandino is so invasive for you but very well behaved for me. Christina http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/september-gbbd/

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I have never seen this plant, but how charming! Far more attractive than Nandina in my book (I can say that because I'm struggling to rid myself of some plants left by the previous owners - there's nothing 'heavenly' about that bamboo - thugs). This is a truly fascinating native plant though. I can't think of one here with such interesting seed capsules. If I lived where you do, I'd grow this just to see those! They're more dazzling than some of our native flowers!

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

I've never seen this before - such an unusual and interesting shrub! Thanks for introducing us to this treasure.

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

What an interesting and beautiful plant. It reminds me of Datura -- but with a much more brilliant color!

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNitty Gritty Dirt Man

For cleansing the destruction of pets, it can plainly be untainted by making use of hose or widespread cleaner, as you would original any other pieces of the home. It is manufactured of polyethylene fibers, which are nontoxic for children and pets.

September 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArtificial Grass

Deb, This is a a new plant for me, and I think it's lovely. I do wonder why it is not more widely used. Thanks for the introduction.

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I am so glad I found your blog! I'm kind of new to gardening but am starting to get the hang of it. I've been interested in a moss path so I Googled it. One of your pictures was one of many that came up and it was exactly what I had envisioned so I clicked on it & it led me to your blog. I LOVE your garden!!!!! When I saw it, I saw the vision I've had for my garden all along. I love the outdoors and would rather spend time in my yard than go on vacation. The more I looked at your pictures and comments the more amazed I was, this really is what I want to do . Then as I was reading I noticed a familiar garden, Aldridge Gardens on you blog & I thought "is your garden near me?" Then I saw you're from Helena Alabama!!!! I have a business in Helena and live in Chelsea. I had looked at moss paths on line from all over the world and the one I liked was yours and it's in the same city I was in while looking for ideas. Small world.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim
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