The wahoo or burning bush is remarkable at two seasons of the year - in early June when it blooms, and in autumn when it fruits. There is nothing else quite like the wahoo, nothing else which grows as a low tree and bears small maroon flowers, no other tree in autumn which is decorated with a host of little pink lanterns. Even its Indian name is odd. easy to remember, typical of an American plant in American woods. "Wahoo" is derived from a Dakotan Indian word.
Euonymus atropurpureus Jacq.
June. Bottomland woods.
The wahoo is one of the few shrubs with opposite twigs, leaves, and buds. This is a mark to look for at seasons when neither flowers nor fruits name the plant at once. The leaves are oval and finely toothed; they look a good deal like those of bittersweet, to which it is closely related. The flowers come in May or early June. They burst on thin, much-branched sprays from the axils of the leaves - small, four-petaled. maroon flowers and round little buds. Like the flowers of bittersweet, those of wahoo are of two sexes on separate trees, so that there must be trees of both sexes in order for the fruiting trees to bear.
They are little noticed until autumn. Then when the bittersweet is orange and the pawpaw leaves in the bottomland woods are like pale yellow silk and drift to the ground, the fruits of the wahoo suddenly make their presence known. They hang like little Oriental lanterns on slender stems, fruits with a purple-pink shell which splits to reveal scarlet seeds hanging on white threads. The fruits remain on the low trees for some time, but are not eaten by many creatures, though small rodents seem to relish them. The dried bark of the root is a strong cathartic, and has been known to poison cattle that eat bark or twigs.