The Hotly Debated Burning Bush

I had no idea of the problems caused by plants like bittersweet, autumn olive, barberry, Norway maple, burning bush, etc. I learned in my Master Gardner class that these are all on the New Hampshire invasive species list. That means they are illegal to collect, transport, sell, distribute or transplant (source: NH Dept. of Agriculture).

Yes, it’s true, the burning bush is on the list. This particular one is an issue for lots of people who have one and love it for the beautiful fall colors.

I confess, I didn’t understand why these plants were an issue. My parents had one when I was growing up and I remember how beautiful it turned in the fall with it’s fiery red leaves. The birds loved it too! Turns out, they’re part of the problem because they eat and spread the seeds.

The burning bushes I’ve seen in landscaped settings always look so perfectly contained – but it’s what you don’t see that’s the issue.


Shaped burning bush

Thanks to birds and animals who eat the burning bush seeds, the plant spreads to wooded areas and creates dense thickets. According to the NH Dept. of Agriculture, burning bush outcompetes the native low-growing vegetation by blocking the natural light. Deer won’t eat the foliage, so they will avoid it and over brows other species.

When I came home from the class I walked around our yard to see if we had any in our landscaping. I was surprised to find four bushes growing in our foundation landscaping. The way they were growing it was easy to tell they were not planted there and likely seeded themselves. We’ll be ripping those out this fall!

And now as I drive around I am noticing the plants everywhere! I was driving to the dump on Chubbuck Road in Bedford and they are all over the side of the road. They’re also growing in the woods next to the soccer field on the same road. Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty obvious to see the issue these plants are causing and the thick undergrowth.

Burning Bush undergrowth in Bedford, NH

Burning bush growing along Chubbuck Road in Bedford, NH

Not sure if you have one in your yard? Some indicators are the corky stem (pictured below), the leaves are opposite on the stem, and in fall the leaves and berries turn bright red (thus the name). You can also send pictures to the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center via their Facebook page and a Master Gardner will help you to ID the plant.

Burning bush stem

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