by Andrea Laine, Durham County Extension Master Gardener
Fall is a time when you see more fruits than flowers.
When I see Heart’s-a-bustin’ (Euonymus americanus) this time of year, I forget all about flowers. The brightly-colored fruits burst open in September and October while still firmly attached to the plant stems. The sight is as pretty as any flower display may be.
“The pink warty fruits and orange to scarlet seeds brighten the forest understory in autumn,” writes Timothy P. Spira in a guide to wildflowers. Agreed!
Physical attributes and environmental conditions
Hearts-a-bustin’ is an erect woody shrub native to the Piedmont region of the southeast United States. It generally grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet. It is common in moist to dry forests including alluvial forests, cove forests and oak-hickory forests. It is a member of the Bittersweet family. Another common name for it is strawberry bush.
While relatively tolerant of shade, it flowers and fruits best in partial to full sun. The flowers (tiny and white with five petals appearing in May to June) are pollinated by short-tongued bees and flies.
Various songbirds, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer eat the fruits and disperse the seeds. It also spreads by root suckers. Deer will also browse the stems.
Other native plants with showy fruits
Here are a few images of other native plants with showy fruits. Of course, there are many more examples in our midst. Before the changing leaf colors steal the show, notice the colorful fruits of autumn!
Spira, T.P. (2011). Wildflowers & plant communities of the southern Appalachian mountains & Piedmont. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.