Wintercreeper

Euonymus fortunei

Wintercreeper_Euonymus_fortunei.jpg

Illustration of wintercreeper leaves, flowers, fruits.
Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei).
Paul Nelson
Invasive
Family

Celastraceae (staff vines or bittersweets)

Description

Wintercreeper is an evergreen vine forming a dense, trailing groundcover. It can also sometimes be shrubby and can climb 20 feet or higher with aerial rootlets that cling to tree trunks and other structures.

The branches are densely covered with minute warts.

Leaves are leathery, opposite, elliptical, veiny beneath, usually toothed. Numerous cultivars exist with a variety of leaf sizes and colors, including variegated forms with yellowish striping or other patterns.

Flowers are small, greenish, and occur in clusters, with a long flower stalk.

Fruits are rounded and smooth in an orange capsule, maturing in June and July.

Size

Height: stems to nearly 50 feet.

Habitat and conservation

A cultivated plant at home sites that has escaped into several types of habitat, including floodplain forest, moist and dry-moist forest, and banks of streams and rivers. A single cutting can grow roots and start a colony. It invades natural openings and relatively undisturbed forests. It is also found in fencerows, railroads, roadsides, and other disturbed areas.

image of Wintercreeper distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Currently in 20 counties, mostly in the eastern half of Missouri, but potentially statewide.

Status

Invasive. Wintercreeper is a very aggressive perennial woody vine that climbs on rocks and trees as well as spreading over the ground. It tolerates full sun, heavy shade, and most soil moisture conditions except extremely wet conditions. Birds, small mammals, and water disperse the seeds. It’s frequently found near urban centers, with heavy infestations in woodlands around St. Louis and Kansas City.

Human connections

Wintercreeper is commonly sold by nurseries as an ornamental groundcover. Its ability to grow quickly and stay evergreen in a variety of growing conditions make it seem attractive as a garden plant, but those same traits make it a stubborn, aggressive, invasive weed both in home landscapes and in nature.

Ecosystem connections

Wintercreeper threatens native plants and natural habitats in open-to-shady and moist-to-dry locations. It can form a dense groundcover that reduces or eliminates native plant species. It depletes nutrients and moisture for native species and can smother and kill shrubs and trees.