Photographer: Chris Evans Affiliation: Illinois Wildlife Action Plan Source: Bugwood.org Copyright: (CC BY-NC 3.0).
Euonymus fortunei is an evergreen vise that forms a dense ground cover or can climb up to 70 feet or more, by use of aerial roots that grow from stem nodes. The oval leaves are opposite on each stem and are up to 3 inches in length and 1-1.8 inches wide. The leaves are leathery, smooth and glossy. The leaf coloration is green to dark green with white variegated throughout. The leaf edges are serrated and can be slightly wavy. Inconspicuous white to green flowers are .1 inch in diameter and have 5 petals. Pinkish-red capsuled fruits are created by insect pollination; and they split open when ripe. There is one seed per fruit.
The winter creeper is a shade-tolerant vine that can persist in several types of forest communities and soil types. It is a quick invader of natural forest openings created by fire or insect damage. It outcompetes native plants by removing moisture and nutrients from the soil; and when it forms a dense mat it impedes the growth of seedlings. This vine directly impacts native animals such as butterflies, because it eliminates native ground-layers. When it is a climbing vine it Is able to cover trees and shrubs up to 20 feet and smother them; prohibiting the plants from photosynthesis and eventually weakens or even kills of the plant.
Euonymus fortunei reproduces both by seed and vegetatively. When it grows as ground cover, plants grow from rootlets along the stems that lie on the ground. Then lateral shoots grow from the main branches; and when the plant is cut it stimulates more growth. Seeds can be carried long distances by birds, other animals and water. However, not much is know about seed bank, germination or establishment of seedlings. What is known is that growth rates vary with levels of sunlight, insect damage, water, or foliage damage. Unfortunately, under ideal conditions it only needs one year to cover 75 percent of the ground with a dense mat.
This vine was brought to the United States in 1907 as an ornamental ground cover. Since then, more than 50 cultivars are available here and are still for sale online and in nurseries.
Native Origin: China, Korea, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands
U.S. Habitat: Usually found in home gardens, this plant has expanded to adjoining forests. It can be found in grasslands, rocky bluffs, and floodplains and along roads but cannot tolerate heavy wet soils like those in wetlands.
U.S. Present: AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NB, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, WI, WV
Winter Creeper resembles other native Euonymus species. One being the running strawberry bush but that has larger greenish-purple flowers. The winter creeper can also resemble some species of blueberry plants but those are distinguished by alternate leaves.
Preventing the establishment of this persistent vine is the best management strategy. Since cutting the vine can cause it to grow back stronger, physical control has its limitations. However, cutting then applying herbicides has proven to be effective. Foliar sprays of triclopyr ester or glyphosate can be applied from June to October, but it must be repeated for years. Unfortunately, glyphosate is not selective and will destroy any native plants near the vine. No effective biological control has been found so far. Luckily, there is a fungal parasite native to southwestern Texas and Mexico called the Texas root rot (Phymatotrichum omnivorum). This fungal parasite has at least been able to slow down the vines invasive of the southwestern United States; but using it in other parts of the state may not be possible or beneficial to native plants.
Bean, W. J. 1973. Trees and Shrubs hardy in the British Isles 8th ed., vol. 2: 150-151.
Cole, T., Cole, C., & Conway, E. 2005. Effectiveness of selected fungicides applied with or without surfactant in controlling anthracnose on three cultivars of Euonymus fortunei. Journal of Applied Horticulture, 7(1), 16-19.
Nesom, G. L. 2010. First report of Euonymus fortunei (Celastraceae) naturalized in Texas. Phytoneuron, 1, 1-4.