Spindle berry

by Ian Bushell

 The fruit of the spindle tree (Euonymus europaea)

Spindle is a deciduous native tree, its bark and twigs are deep green, becoming darker with age, and have light brown, corky markings. Mature trees grow to nine metres and can live for more than a century. In the winter it is easily identified by its vivid pink fruits which have bright orange seeds.

Spindle is an ancient-woodland indicator, native to much of Europe and can be found most commonly on the edges of woodland and in hedges and scrub. In the past the dense, light coloured wood was used to make spindles for spinning and holding wool, hence its common name; skewers, toothpicks, pegs and knitting needles were also made from spindle wood.

Pictures: spindle berries by Ian Bushell; flowers by Peter O’Connor

The flowers are inconspicuous, small and greenish white, but they are densely packed in panicles and are a rich source of nectar in the springtime, particularly attractive to bees.

Spindle leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of magpie moths as well as spindle, ermine, and scorched moths; holly blue butterfly larvae will feed on it too. The plants also attract aphids and their predators: hoverflies, ladybirds and lacewings, and all kinds of small birds.

Its genus name, Euonymus, is supposed to indicate luck but in some areas, it was also thought that if the spindle flowered early, an outbreak of the plague was on the way. I don’t know if it flowered early this year but it must have flowered prolifically in order to produce this exceptional crop of berries

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