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Often-overlooked Collections at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
October 9, 2015


Often-overlooked Collections at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Maples… check. Lilacs… check. Stewartia… check. Euonymus… huh?

The depth of the living collections of the Arnold Arboretum continues to amaze and astound as I wander the grounds at odd moments. For some time, I have been scouting the Euonymus collection at the base of Bussey Hill, in eager anticipation of the moment when the fruits of our various species will burst open and magically suspend their inner brightly colored seeds. That time has arrived.

With well over a hundred species in this genus, our 20 species in the collections represent a solid sampling of the natural evolutionary diversity from Europe, Asia, and North America. Each fall, the capsular fruits split open and suspend their tantalizing seeds for birds. The aril, a fleshy coating that surrounds each stony seed (think of a yew), is the bird’s reward (food). The inner hard seed (with embryo enclosed) passes through the gut unharmed, and is dispersed to a new location at the end of the digestive process. Yet again, another great example of plants manipulating animals to their own ends!

To the right, Euonymus oxyphyllus (1237-51*A) a native of China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan; Euonymus americanus (strawberry bush, 393-2004*B), native to eastern North America with its beautiful pyramidal spikes on the surface of the capsule; Euonymus maackii (Maack’s spindletree, 14566-1*A), a common shrub native to China, Korea, Japan and the far east of Russia with a wonderful light pink outer capsule wall.

For more Euonymus fruit pictures, go to the Arnold Arboretum Plant Image Database and type “Friedman” and “Euonymus” into the Search Box.

Better yet, visit this collection this week!

-Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum

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