Look! Up in the Sky! It's a tree! It's a vine! No! It's - groundcover! Huh?
Yes, groundcover. Specifically Euonymus fortunei, aka Wintercreeper;Fortune's Spindle. According the the Missouri Department of Conservattion this Asian native was brought to the United States and sold as groundcover. Among its attractive traits is the ability to stay green throughout the winter. Euonymous grows quickly and is not picky as to whether it receives full sun, part shade, dry or moist soil. It is the perfect addition to a garden - or so it seems.
As with so many other non-native organisms introduced to our hemisphere, E. fortunei began to outcompete native plants. Birds eat the berries, spreading them as they fly. This is just one way the Euonymus takes over our neighborhoods and forests.
As its common name suggests, Wintercreeper does, indeed, creep along. It has the amazing ability to be a groundcover, a shrub, and a vine, all rolled into one. Once established E. fortunei is very difficult to
eradicate. I've tried pulling it out of the ground. The vine/groundcover/shrub would have nothing of it. I lost - horribly. E. fortunei is also difficult to remove as it vines up a tree. The vines grow very thick, with hairy, aerial rootlets which cling to trees. I've tried to cut these vines, but once they become quite mature and established, they are thick and nigh well impossible to cut clean through. Once the vine is cut, glyphosate must be painted onto the stumps to help kill it down to the roots. This process is back breaking and time consuming. It also brings out the cuss words from me. Ugly, ugly, ugly work!
These vines are killing our trees and destroying habitats. They are especially bad in and around urban areas. According to MDC: "Wintercreeper can cover the ground and vegetation and eliminate native ground cover species in mesic and dry-mesic forests. It is a serious potential threat because it spreads so rapidly and replaces spring ephemeras."
As with many non-native invasive plants we have today, Euonymous fortunei was brought over here with the best of intentions. "It seemed like a good idea at the time." It is unfortunate that those good intentions and good ideas have such terrible consequences, and for decades into the future.
It is so important that we plan and plant our gardens and yards, that we consider
what we are introducing into that ecosystem. Is it a native, or is it non-native? Are we planting it because we like the way it looks, or because it serves a purpose to the habitat and fauna in the area? Do these plants actually belong here, or will they cause problems in the future?
Visit the MDC website to learn more about Euonymus identifiation and control, as well as the myriad of other non-native invasive plants which now call Missouri home.