The Spindleberry Tree

The Autumnal colours of leaves may well be a distant memory in November, but there could still be a little joyous burst of colour left on Spindleberry Trees ( Euonymous europaeus). Nature often signals danger by helpfully giving poisonous plants or insects garish colours and the fruit of the Spindleberry Tree is no exception. The tiny bright pink fruits burst open to reveal bright orange seeds which look like popcorn that has been drenched in some noxious chemical dyes. There is a special joy in finding a fruiting wild Spindleberry Tree because to the human eye it is such an unassuming plant for the rest of the year and it is possible to walk past it for months without noticing until the fruits demand attention.

A mature tree can be up to 9 metres tall and can live 100 years although will happily grow a bushy habit if treated as a hedging plant. It is commonly thought to like chalky soil and to be an indicator of ancient woodlands but there are a couple of fine specimens in Manor Road Community Woodland which is a relatively new wood on solid clay and stony soil.
The bark has corky markings
The waxy ovoid leaves have tiny teeth on the edges.
The tiny white hermaphrodite ( containing male and female parts) flowers appear in May and June and are insect pollinated.
The seeds are spread by birds that eat the fruit, so plants can pop up in nearby hedges.

Spindleberry is particularly useful to a wide range of wildlife; the caterpillars of Magpie Moths, Spindle Ermine Moths, Scorched Carpet Moths and the Holly Blue butterfly eat the leaves and the flowers attract aphids, hoverflies, ladybirds, lacewings and St Mark’s flies which in turn are feasted upon by an array of birds.
Photo: Spindle ermine moth


The straight creamy white dense hardwood was unsurprisingly used as spindles for hand spinning wool as well as knitting needles, butchers skewers, toothpicks and is particularly prized as charcoal pencils for artists. The fruit and leaves, despite being a food plant for many insects, are toxic to humans although a powdered concoction of leaves was used to treat mange in cattle and even head lice and insect infestations in homes.

Julia Shahin

Spindle photo: Victoria Ross

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