invasive winter creeper shrub with small white flowers

Winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei). Photo: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

Updated: June 14, 2021

About Winter Creeper (Euonymus fortunei)

Life cycle and background

Winter creeper euonymus (Euonymus fortunei), also called creeping euonymus, is a perennial plant that grows as a groundcover, climbing vine, or sprawling shrub. It was introduced from China in 1907 for use as an ornamental evergreen groundcover. In 1994, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported it as being invasive in natural areas of Maryland. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) named winter creeper a Tier 1 invasive plant, as of February 2018. This classification means that a person may not propagate, import, transfer, sell, purchase, transport, or introduce any living part of a Tier 1 invasive plant in the state of Maryland. Refer to the MDA website for additional details.

Growth habit

Winter creeper euonymus is highly variable in its growth habit and appearance. Leaves are evergreen, about 1 inch or less in length, crenate-serrate along the margin, and arranged oppositely along the stem. Leaf color is variable, usually dark green with silver-toned veins. Climbing stems form aerial roots, similar to English ivy

Winter creeper can be 4-12 inches tall as a groundcover or as high as 70’ as a climbing vine. These plants can also grow in the form of mounding, woody shrubs. The groundcover form restricts the growth of native terrestrial plants and the vining form can climb and kill small trees.

wintercreeper on tree
Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
winter creeper leaves
Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

Reproduction

Adult plants produce a ⅓” diameter pinkish capsules that open to expose orange seeds in October-November. Birds and other animals aid in seed dispersal. Winter creeper also spreads vegetatively from the roots.

fruit of winter creeper
Photo: James H Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Conditions that favor growth

Tolerates heavy shade to full sun and variable soil conditions.

What to plant instead

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Controlling Winter Creeper Euonymus

Additional resources 

Burrell, C. Colston. 2007. Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. Brooklyn Botanic Garden.Kaufman, Sylvan Ramsey & Wallace Kaufman. 2007. Invasive Plants: Guide to Identification and the Impacts and Control of Common North American Species.

Maryland Biodiversity Project, Winter Creeper.

Swearingen J., K. Reshetiloff, B. Slattery, and S. Zwicker. 2002. Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas. National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.

Compiled by Christa Carignan, reviewed by Debra Ricigliano, University of Maryland Extension, 9/2018.