Euonymus fortunei

Download PDF

Euony fortunei cf ArAr1

Name: Euonymus fortunei (Turcz.) Hand.-Mazz

Family: Celastraceae, The Staff-vine Family

Common Names: Winter creeper, Euonymus, Climbing Euonymus, Wintercreeper Euonymus 

Etymology: Euonymus is ancient Greek meaning “good name.”  Fortunei recognizes Robert Fortune, a botanist who made collections in China (4).

Botanical synonyms (1): Elaeodendron fortunei Turcz., Euonymus hederaceus Champ ex Benth., E. japonicus var. chinensis Pamp., E. japonicus var. radicans Miq., E. kiautschovicus Loes., E. kiautschovicus var. patens (Rehder) Loes., E. patens Rehder, E. radicans var. alticolus Hand.-Mazz., E. wensiensis J.W. Ren & D.S. Yao

Euony fortunei cf ArAr5Quick Notable Features:
¬ Simple, opposite, coriaceous leaves with prominent white venation
¬ Adventitious roots when climbing
¬ Ornamental
¬ Pinkish capsule with orange arillate seeds

Plant Height: Up to 10m (5).

Subspecies/varieties recognized:  E. fortunei is a popular ornamental for ground cover and hedges, thus numerous varieties exist.  These include ‘Blondy’, ‘Colorata’, ‘Dart’s Carpet’, ‘Emerald Gaiety’, ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’, ‘Harlequin’, ‘Ivory Jade’, ‘Kewensis’, ‘Minimus’, ‘Moonshadow’, var. radicans, ‘Sarcoxie’, ‘Sunspot’, ‘Vegetus’, and ‘Variegatus’ (5, 7).

Most Likely Confused with: May be confused with a native relative E. obovata and low trailing individuals of LoniceraHedera helix, especially leaves near its inflorescence, may resemble E. fortunei.

Habitat Preference: Mesic, fine to coarse soils; woods, roadsides, and gardens.  Shade tolerant (2, 3, 5).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: Naturalized in Calhoun county in the south-central Lower Peninsula, Benzie county in the northwest Lower Peninsula, and six additional counties in southern Michigan (2,12), although cultivated plants are likely distributed throughout the state.

Euonymus_fortunei_fallKnown Elevational Distribution: Found in the mountainous Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China (9): at least 750m and up to 4,000m.

Complete Geographic Distribution: Native to China, Japan, India, Thailand, and Korea, but cultivated as an ornamental in the United States, and in many cases escaped as an invasive (14).  Can be found east of the Mississippi with the exceptions of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Florida.  Also reported in Missouri and Arkansas (3, 5).

Vegetative Plant Description:  The exact form of the plant varies greatly with variety.  In nature, it is a low evergreen trailing shrub or climbing woody vine.  The branches and twigs are rounded, warty, sometimes striate, usually brown or green-brown. The leaves are simple, opposite, serrate, elliptical, and coriaceous, and bear prominent whitish venation.  The glabrous leaves are up to 2-5.5 (8) cm long and 2-3.5cm wide (4, 9). Petioles are 2-9 mm, but leaves are sometimes sessile.

euofo01 Barry Rice image with permissionClimbing Mechanism: Climbs with adventitious roots (2, 4).

Flower Description: Plants are seldom flowering unless climbing (14).  Flowering occurs in June-July; flowers white to green about 5mm across, perfect, inconspicuous, 4-merous, and develop in axillary cymes.  Stamens are 4 and inserted on the margin of a disk that immerses the superior ovary (2, 11).  The generic description (from 11) of the flower details indicates that we expect a sessile stigma with 3-5 lobes, an ovary with 3-5 locules and 2-6 ovules per locule.

Flowering Time: June and July in eastern U.S. (5, 11,14).

Pollinator: E. fortunei is reported to be insect pollinated (5).

Fruit Type and Description: The fruit is a capsule 6-12mm in diameter, with a long peduncle, pedicel less than 5mm long.  It is pinkish in color and contains an orange-arillate seed.  Fruits ripen in October (9, 10, 13).

EFort SeedsSeed Description: Seeds are brown and oblong, one to many in each fruit (10, 13). Seed dormancy is reported but germination rates are high (14).

Dispersal Syndrome: Birds and other wildlife feed on the aril and disperse the seeds (10).

Distinguished by: E. fortunei can be distinguished from E. obovata by its elliptical leaf shape and from Lonicera by its serrate margins.  E. fortunei’s dark green leaves with pale venation are very characteristic.  Hedera helix may have similarly pale venation and elliptical to suborbicular, unlobed leaves.  However, such unlobed leaves in H. helix only grow near the inflorescence; all other leaves throughout the plant are entire, 5-lobed, and have palmate venation. 

Other members of the family in Michigan: Celastrus (2), Euonymus (4).

Ethnobotanical Uses: E. fortunei was used in China as a tea plant (8).  Stems and leaves are used for medicine (9).

CELAEuonymusfortuneiMAPPhylogenetic Information: Families Celastraceae and Lepidobotryaceae both belong in the order Celastrales.  Celastrales belong in the taxa Eurosids I.  They form a monophyletic group with the Malpighiales and Oxidales.  They are part of the rosids clade of the eudicots angiosperms (6). 

Interesting Quotation or Other Interesting Factoid not inserted above:  Winter creeper was first introduced to the United States in 1907 (10). It is capable of producing more than one embryo from a single seed (polyembryony), making it uncommonly capable of invasion if it is spread (14).

Literature and websites used:

  1. Solomon, J.  2006.  Nomenclatural Data Base.  Missouri Botanical Garden – w3TROPICOS.
  2. Voss, E. G.  1985.  Michigan Flora Part II.  Cranbrook Institute: Ann Arbor, Michigan
  3. USDA PLANTS Profile database.
  4. Fernald, M. L.  1950.  Gray’s Manual of Botany, eighth edition.  New York: American Book Company.
  5. Morris, R.  2006.  Euonymus fortunei.  Plants for a Future.
  6. AGP 2002.  An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II.  Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436.
  7. Brand, M. H.  2001.  Euonymus fortunei.  University of Connecticut Plant Database.
  8. Freckmann, R. W. Herbarium.  2006. Euonymus fortunei.  University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.
  9. Zheng, H., Y. Wu, J. Ding, D. Binion, W. Fu, and R. Reardon.  2004.  Euonymus spp..  In Invasive Plants of Asian Origin Established in the United States and Their Natural Enemies, Volume 1, pp 72-74.  USDA Forest Service:
  10. Remaley, T.  2006.  Climbing Euonymus.  Plant Conservation Alliance’s Alien Plant Working Group.
  11. Gleason, A. and A. Cronquist 1991.  Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada.  New York: The New York Botanical Garden.
  12. MICHIGAN FLORA ONLINE. A. A. Reznicek, E. G. Voss, & B. S. Walters. February 2011. University of Michigan. Web. November 19, 2012.
  13. Ma J. & M. Funston 2010. Flora of China, Vol. 11 )
  14. Rounsaville, T.J., C.C. Baskin, E.A. Roualdes, R.L. McCulley, & M.A. Arthur 2018. Seed dynamics of the liana Euonymus fortunei (Celastraceae) and implications for invasibility. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 145(3): 225–236.

Image credits (all used with permission):
1 & 2) Vegetative photographs © Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
3) Fall color and fruit image copyright Tihomir Kostadinov, University of Richmond
4) Fruiting plant image courtesy of The Nature Conservancy: The Global Invasive Species Initiative.
5) Seed image courtesy of Olivier de Seauve, Les Semences du Puy at
6) Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

Primary Author: Susu Yuan with editing by Robyn J. Burnham, John Bradtke, and Cristine V. Santanna

© Robyn J. Burnham, 2018

For additional information on Michigan Plant Diversity web pages please contact Robyn J. Burnham via email: rburnham“at”