Species of the Month: November 2016 - Spindle

Spindle (image: Hectonichus - Wikimedia)

This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is running a new series taking a closer look at one key species of flora or fauna each month. For November, we are looking at spindle…

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

Spindle (image: Kurt Stüber - Wikimedia)Spindle is a small, shrubby tree found in Britain and much of Europe. In the wild, its presence is an indicator of an ancient woodland – an area which has been wooded since around 1600. Spindle grows to up to twenty foot tall. It’s often grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, due to the wonderful colours of its autumn leaves and unusual berries.

The deciduous leaves, which grow opposite each other on the stem, have a finely serrated edge and pointed ends. They are dark green in summer turning yellow and deep reddish-purple in autumn. In late spring, rather inconspicuous flowers appear which are a yellowish green, with four petals, growing in groups of three to eight together. The autumnal berries are bright pink and split when ripe into four lobes, revealing the orange seeds. Important: Although these berries are very attractive to look at, they are poisonous and should not be touched. Ingestion can result in liver and kidney damage, and even death

In myth and legend, the spindle tree is said to symbolise creative inspiration and wisdom. Due to the fact that spindle wood is very hard, fine-grained and can be cut to a sharp point, it was used in the past for making spindles for spinning wool (whence comes its name) knitting needles and skewers.

The wood is also burned to make high-quality artists’ charcoal and the vividly coloured fruit can be used to make pink, yellow and orange fabric dye. Oil from the tree is used in soap making and a substance obtained from the roots is used to create a type of rubber used in electrical insulation.

Where to see it

Spindle grows on the edges of woods, in hedges and on gentle slopes. It tends to thrive in nutrient-rich, chalky and salt-poor soils.

How to help spindle to thrive

Spindle can be bought from garden centres and grown in your garden, but please be aware that it’s potentially poisonous to cats and dogs if the berries are eaten in quantity. Herefordshire wildflower nursery PlantWild have young spindle trees available for purchase, which range from 50-100cm in height (in 9cm pots and larger), up to 1m in height (in 1lt pots). Customers can purchase them through PlantWild's website, by email or by phone (01531 670797).

Get in touch

If you spot a spindle tree – or any other species - please do let us know! You can submit records online at www.herefordshirewt.org, email them to records@herefordshirewt.co.uk or write to Lower House Farm, Ledbury Road, Tupsley, Hereford HR1 1UT.

Ripe spindle fruit  (image: Hectonichus  - Wikimedia)