Eastern wahoo is a native shrub or small tree that grows in wooded areas, near streams, and in thickets. In fall, dainty pink or purplish four-lobed fruit capsules dangle from its branches.
Wahoo is usually a shrub but is sometimes a small tree to 25 feet, with spreading branches and an irregular crown.
The leaves are opposite, simple, 2–5 inches long, 1–2 inches wide, egg-shaped to broadest in the middle and tapering at both ends, tip pointed, base tapering sharply, margin finely toothed; bright green above; pale and hairy beneath; leaf stalk ½–1 inch long; leaves turn yellow in autumn.
The bark is smooth, thin, gray, with minute scales; the wood is almost white, tinged with yellow or orange, close-grained, heavy, hard, and tough.
The twigs are slender, somewhat 4-angled, purplish green, turning brownish later; the pores are pale and prominent.
Flowers April–June, in clusters of 7–15, from axils of leaves, stalks slender, 1–2 inches long; flowers about ½ inch wide, petals 4, spreading, purple; stamens 4, alternating with the petals and arising from the edge of the disk.
Fruits September–October, a capsule that is deeply 4-lobed, smooth, about ½ inch across, persistent into winter on long stalks, purple to rose-colored, splitting open to expose brown seeds about ¼ inch long enclosed by a scarlet seed covering.
- Strawberry bush (E. americanus) is a close relative that is rare in Missouri, occurring in southeast Missouri and north to the St. Louis area, in low, sandy woods along spring branches, low moist woods, moist wooded slopes of Crowley’s ridge, and moist stream banks. This Missouri native has attractive dark green leaves that remain on the branches long into autumn, and it bears unusual pin, warty fruit that opens to display colorful orange-red seeds. Much of its Missouri habitat has been destroyed, and like wahoo, it is a good choice as a native landscaping shrub.
- Burning bush (or winged euonymus, or winged spindle tree) (E. alatus) is a nonnative, invasive shrub that is widely planted as an ornamental. It has corky ridges (“wings”) along the twigs. Please do not plant it.