Perennial woody vine, the adult form sometimes shrub-like 10 - 30 cm tall as a groundcover, climbing to 20 m, reaching 0.5 - 1 m tall in adult form Stem: green and smooth, forming roots on stems touching the ground and aerial roots on climbing stems. Leaves: opposite, evergreen, dark green with light green to cream veins above, paler beneath, 2.5 - 5 cm long, egg-shaped to elliptical or oblong with a wedge-shaped base and pointed tip, irregularly toothed, leathery. Flowers: on adult form only, borne in clusters in leaf axils of new growth, greenish white, tiny. The four, oval petals are wavy with margins curled upward. Fruit: a pink to orange or red capsule, spherical but flattened near base, splitting to reveal one or two seeds covered by an orange coating (aril), persistent. Form: creeping along the ground as a dense groundcover until it finds something to climb, then changing to a vigorous climbing vine.
Similar species: The similar Euonymus obovata is a short, trailing shrub with deciduous leaves that are inversely egg-shaped and uniformly colored, five-petaled flowers, and warty fruit.
Flowering: Mid to late June
Habitat and ecology: Introduced from China, E. fortunei is a commonly grown groundcover that tolerates most soil types and full sun to dense shade. It escapes when birds eat the fruit and drop the seeds into nearby disturbed areas. It grows in vacant lots, along railroads, and has spread into forests and rocky bluffs throughout the eastern and midwestern states.
Occurence in the Chicago region: non-native
Notes: Birds and small mammals eat the fruit of this species, while the leaves and stems are eaten by deer and rabbits. Euonymus fortunei is commonly planted as a ground cover because it quickly covers large areas. However, it is an aggressive plant that smothers other vegetation, either by forming dense mats along the ground or by climbing to the tops of trees and competing for sunlight. It is also difficult to remove the plant once it has become established. Many variegated cultivars have been developed because the leaf color mutates easily.
Etymology: Euonymus is the ancient Greek name for the genus. Fortunei is named after Robert Fortune (1813-1880), Scottish horticulturist and plant collector that discovered the species.