The seed pods. Full stop.
These seed pods are one of the Chesapeake native garden's most wondrous sights. Every fall, I seek them out. As a shrub matures, more and more seed pods develop. The shrub itself? I was always hard pressed to recommend it. Even in my own garden, I have moved it several times because it is, well, ungainly.
Hearts-a-burstin (Euonymus americanus) grows in part shade and does best in moist and rich soils. It is said by experts to tolerate clay soils. Often described as growing 4 to 6 feet wide and high, it is just as likely to be described as sprawling and suckering. It sometimes called strawberry bush or wahoo shrub.
There is a second native shrub or small tree, Eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) which is very similar in appearance, though grows taller, up to 20 feet. This tree like shrub at Mt. Cuba may be Eastern wahoo.
In our garden, I planted a quart sized hearts-a-burstin shrub, purchased at Adkins Arboretum years ago, in dry shade. It literally stood still over several years. No additional growth but no decline either. I then moved it to an area with richer soils down gradient of a down spout where the soil was moister. It then began to grow. The growth, in the form of additional spindly stems, eventually formed a clump of spindly stems. But the seed pods!
Hidden away, the shrub seemed like it was in the perfect place. Each year, more of those incredible seed pods, pink cases with orange seeds, develop from the tiniest of cream colored flowers which bloom in June. Fun to marvel at each year in September and October but not necessarily a plant to feature.
And then, I saw it planted as a hedge at Stoneleigh, a Natural Garden outside of Philadelphia. So this is how to grow and use this shrub! This hedge, along side a walkway leading away from the main house at Stoneleigh is a show stopper. Interestingly, this location is fairly sunny. The combination of foliage turning to reds and oranges with the pink and orange of the seed pods in mass: wow!
The euonymus hedging often planted by landscapers across our region is native to Asia. A very vigorous grower, the hedges need significant maintenance. If you find euonymus at a garden center, it is most likely one of the Asian cultivars. The foliage is denser and the seed pods are tan with orange seeds.
Native hearts-a-burstin is largely available only at native plant nurseries. Kollar Nursery says it has a limited supply. Adkins Arboretum is currently offering this shrub for sale. Today, October 12th, is the last day to place an order for this fall.
Wherever you decide to plant it, it will be a very unique plant in your garden!