Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Wintercreeper or Climbing Euonymous (Euonymous fortunei)



Wintercreeper Euonymus is an evergreen vine forming a dense ground cover or climbing or trailing to 20 or more feet (6.1 or more meters) high. It has aerial rootlets and leathery opposite elliptic leaves that are veiny beneath. Numerous cultivars exist that exhibit a range of leaf sizes and colors. Branches are densely covered with minute warts. The small greenish flowers occur in clusters, with a long flower stalk. Fruits are globose and smooth in an orange capsule, maturing in June and July.

Similar Species
This vine differs from bittersweet (Celastrus sp.) which has alternate leaves, and from other Euonymus spp. in that it is a vine. Wintercreeper Euonymus should be accurately identified before attempting any control measures. If identification of the species is in doubt, the plant's identity should be confirmed by a knowledgeable individual and/or by consulting appropriate books.

Wintercreeper Euonymus occurs infrequently in the eastern U.S. It was introduced from Asia as a ground cover. In Illinois, it is found mostly near urban centers, with reports from several sites in the East St. Louis area. It is common throughout Giant City State Park in Jackson County, Illinois and spreading rapidly into surrounding woodland areas. It is also locally common near Karnak in Pulaski County.

This species occurs as a cultivated plant at home sites. It has spread into several types of forest, including floodplain, mesic and dry-mesic forest. It invades natural openings and relatively undisturbed forests.

Life History
Wintercreeper Euonymus is a very aggressive perennial woody vine that climbs on rocks and trees. It tolerates full sun, heavy shade, and most soil moisture conditions, except extremely wet conditions. It appears to be spread by birds that eat its seeds.

Effects Upon Natural Areas
At Fern Rocks Nature Preserve in Jackson County, Illinois, it has covered the ground and vegetation in many places, actually eliminating native ground-cover species in mesic and dry mesic woods. It is a serious potential threat because it spreads so rapidly and replaces spring ephemerals.




Initial effort in areas of heavy infestation
Vines should be cut by hand and each cut stem sprayed with Roundup (a formulation of glyphosate) just after the last killing frost. While the Roundup label recommends a 50-100% concentration of Roundup for stump treatment, a 20% concentration has proven effective. A squirt bottle may be used for spot treatment or else individual stumps can be painted by hand using a sponge applicator. Treatment should be in late autumn when most native vegetation is dormant and prior to emergence of spring ephemerals. Care should be taken to avoid contacting nontarget species with the herbicide. By law, herbicides only may be applied as per label instructions and by licensed herbicide applicators or operators when working on public properties.

Effort in areas of light infestation
In small areas, where practical, individual vines should be pulled up by the roots and removed from the area by hand.

Maintenance control
The most effective control is to totally eradicate the species from the surrounding area where possible. Invading individuals should be pulled and removed as soon as possible after recognition.

Initial effort in areas of heavy infestation
Same as above in areas where hand labor is available and where area affected is relatively small. In large areas, foliar spraying with Crossbow (mixture of 2,4-D and triclopyr) in autumn after the first frost can reduce the population. Crossbow should be mixed according to label instructions for foliar application and applied as a foliar spray. Spraying should be prior to emergence of spring ephemerals. Care should be used to avoid contacting nontarget plants with herbicide. The herbicide should be applied while backing away from the treated area to avoid walking through the wet herbicide.

Effort in areas of light infestation
Same as described for high-quality natural areas.

Maintenance control
Same as described for high-quality natural areas.





  • hand control: slow and labor intensive, making it impractical for large infestations.
  • mowing: ineffective without chemical treatment and not practical in woodland.
  • fire: often not desirable in mesic woodland.
  • herbicides: should not be used during growing season when spring ephemerals and other native species are likely to be affected.
  • manipulating water levels: not practical on sites where it occurs.
  • no effective biological controls are known that are feasible in natural areas.
  • introduction of competitive species: no native species known that can compete.





Dirr, M. A. 1977. Manual of woody landscape plants: their identification, ornamental characteristics, culture, propagation, and uses. Stipes Publishing Co., Champaign, Illinois. 536 pp.

Fernald, M. L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany, eighth edition. American Book Co., New York. 1632 pp.

Mohlenbrock R. H. 1986. Guide to the vascular flora of Illinois. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. 507 pp.

Petrides, G. A. 1972. A field guide to trees and shrubs. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston Massachusetts. 428 pp.

Schwegman, J. E. 1988. Exotic invaders. Outdoor Highlights, mid-March issue, pp.6-11.

Wharton, M. E., and R. W. Barbour. 1973. Trees and shrubs of Kentucky. Kentucky Nature Studies 4. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington. 582 pp.




Kurz, Don. 1988. Natural History Section, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, Missouri.

McFall, Don. 1988. Division of Natural Heritage, Illinois Department of Conservation, Springfield, Illinois.

Olson, Steve. 1988. Division of Nature Preserves, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Tell City, Indiana.

Schwegman, John. 1988. Division of Natural Heritage, Illinois Department of Conservation, Springfield, Illinois.

Stritch, Larry. 1988. Shawnee National Forest, United States Forest Service, Harrisburg, Illinois.



Written for the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission by:
Max Hutchinson
Natural Land Institute
R.R. 1
Belknap, Illinois 62908

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