The plant that is in the limelight this week is the common spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus. This grows like a weed in the hedgerows and banks in my home of Devon and I’m pleased to say I see it everywhere in Hertfordshire too! I love the striking combination of orange and pink that it displays in autumn, most of you have probably seen it around without realising what it is. I hope you enjoy this weeks’ plant profile! 🙂
Common name: Spindle
Translation: From the Greek euonymos meaning “of good fame” or “lucky”, or from “Euonyme” the mother of the Furies in Greek mythology, thus a reference to its poisonous nature. The Latin europaeus meaning “European”.
Type of plant: Shrub
Origin: Native to the United Kingdom
The ideal growing conditions for Euonymus europaeus are full sun or partial shade, in an exposed or sheltered position with chalk soil.
Soil: Euonymus europaeus thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline or neutral: and chalk, clay, sand or loam. They are particularly at home on chalk.
Resilience: Very hardy, has high resistance to frost and wind.
Propagation: Propagation is easiest by seed or semi-hardwood cuttings.
Cultivation: Euonymus europaeus is a familiar plant which is seen wild in our British hedgerows, one of the most colourful, native shrubs around. It is fast-growing and bushy, sometimes making a small tree instead of a shrub. It is best known for its fantastic display of autumn colour, with green stems and an abundance of scarlet capsules that open to reveal orange-coated seeds. It is a popular choice for informal and cottage gardens and perfect for hedges and rough country screening.
1. All species in the genus Euonymus have a high toxicity level. The poison is present throughout Euonymus europaeus, the berries the part which causes most harm. Symptoms appear up to twelve hours after ingestion and include: diarrhoea, vomiting and stimulation of the heart. Larger doses can cause hallucinations, loss of consciousness and symptoms similar to meningitis.
2. William Turner is known as the father of botany, mostly because of his book “A New Herbal” published in the 16th century. In it, he gives the name “spindle tree” to Euonymus europaeus because he says he cannot find an English name for it so the Dutch name “spilboome” may as well be used.
3. The yellow dye obtained by boiling the seeds of Euonymus europaeus was used for colouring butter.
4. The flowers of Euonymus europaeus are pollinated by flies.
5. In some parts of Africa the juice of Euonymus europaeus was used as an arrow poison.
6. Euonymus europaeus acts as the winter host to two important crop pests: the black bean aphid (Aphis fabae) which feeds on field beans (Vicia faba) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris), and the peach potato aphid/green peach aphid (Myzus persicae) a widespread pest of a large number of crops. Despite removal of Euonymus europaeus from hedgerows and woodlands in the past, its present populations are still stable.
7. Euonymus europaeus can reach six metres in height if it is left to grow freely.
8. The wood of Euonymus europaeus is hard and was often used for making tool handles, including textile spindles.
9. Euonymus europaeus has been introduced to North America where it has become an invasive species in some areas.
10. A cultivar of Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, meaning it is a plant of outstanding excellence.