What you should know about Burning Bush

Bright red leaves of a burning bush shrub

The glow of the intense bright red color, corky ridges on the branches, and bright orange or red berries  of your neighborhood burning bushes may entice you, but remember planting and growing them will lead to further degradation of the Illinois wildscape. The ornamental berries of this common landscape plant spread aggressively by birds and other wildlife in the understory of our forests and outcompete native plants.

Most who love this plant for its adaptability, prunabilty, and impressive fall display will say they have never see this plant loose in the wild or act as a weed on their property will take notice as soon as the brilliant red fall color starts to reveal itself.

Burning bush is being found in natural lands more and more in Illinois. We are seeing it spread from ornamental plantings into forests where they can form very dense infestations and impact native plants and wildlife, according to University of Illinois extension forestry researcher and specialist Chris Evans.

Burning bush is native to northeastern Asia and was first introduced into North America in the 1860s for ornamental purposes. This plant is still sold and planted as an ornamental. Minnesota just added Burning Bush to the State Noxious weed list requiring nurseries and growers to phase the plant out by 2023. Although, a species of concern in Illinois, burning bush should be avoided by gardeners and landscapes.

Colorful alternatives to Burning Bush

Do not plant invasive burning bush. Rather, try these alternative landscape shrubs that have either dazzling fall color or an explosion of berries. These plants are coveted by gardeners for the seasonal interest. Gardeners have revealed that these shrubs have the most exciting fall display in the Illinois landscape and should be planted by gardeners rather than invasive burning bush.

Learn more about Illinois invasive species

Fall berries:

  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
  • 'Brandywine’ possomhaw viburnum (Viburnum nudum)
  • White fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
  • Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
  • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata
  • Viburnum trilobum (Cranberry bush viburnum
  • Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica

Fall Color:

  • Oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
  • Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa
  • Virgina Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
  • Spice bush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Bush honey suckle (Diervilla lonicera)
  • Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
  • High bush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
  • Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria)
  • Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kelly Allsup is a Horticulture Educator for University of Illinois Extension serving Livingston, McLean and Woodford Counties. She meets the educational needs of her community, including local chapters of Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers, through expertise in home horticulture and entomology. Her passion for ecologically-friendly gardening and all things plants makes her a dynamic speaker on topics that range from beneficial insects, growing vegetables and fruits, to urban trees.