Beware the invasive spindletree

european spindletree

“Every garden should have one of these,” said the woman who gave me the small rooted shrub, a type of euonymus, she said. “You’ll love the fall foliage, and the gorgeous berries are great for arrangements–they last, too.”

She was right on all counts, including the “last” part. Make that multiply instead, and I mean the tree, not the berries–which are indeed gorgeous, as it turned out. In the fall, each four-segmented pod opens its velvety crimson arms to reveal a quartet of showy orange berries inside. It’s a colour combination hard to beat.

The shrub turned out to bear more resemblance to a triffid than a euonymus. One day it was behaving itself nicely in the front garden, the next it was leering in the front window. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but before five years had passed there were three tall ones marching menacingly toward the house and another one had magically appeared in the back garden, courtesy of the birds, I expect. They grew fuller and elbowed out the dogwood and a nice dwarf cotoneaster. The back one was heading toward my neighbour’s gorgeous beauty bush.

I hauled out the spade and began digging. The wood was hard and unyielding–worse, I realized the roots were travelling and another triffid was sprouting two feet away. So I hired the teenager next door, and he spent two days digging out the back one and its small progeny.

This past fall it took two landscape guys an afternoon to chop out the roots of the front ones with axes.

My friend was also correct that her gift was some kind of euonymus — Euonymus europeaeus,  in fact, commonly known as European spindletree and common to English hedgerows but, as I found out, it can be an  invasive plant in parts of eastern North America.

It’s very cold hardy and survives in any soil, especially in dry, shaded areas. The wood is indeed very hard and will take a sharp point, so it was used long ago to make spindles for spinning wool. Those beautiful berries are poisonous, but they, as well as the bark and leaves, have been used medicinally in small amounts as a laxative and purgative, and externally to treat lice and scabies.

Many pretty plants that thrive in our gardens are invasive or on the “alert” list and become garden pests.  And they vary greatly from place to place–a plant that wants to take over in my part of the world may not be invasive in yours.

Check what’s unwelcome in your area by Googling “invasive plants” and your province or state.  For Ontario, where I live, I found this site that identifies invasives  and alerts, and also offers alternative plants to grow. 

And let me know what wants to be boss in your garden so we can all compare notes.

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