Euonymus europaeus

Euonymus europaeus
Euonymus europaeus2.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Celastrales
Family: Celastraceae
Genus: Euonymus
E. europaeus
Binomial name
Euonymus europaeus
Euonymus europaeus range.svg
Distribution map

Euonymus europaeus, the spindle, European spindle, or common spindle, is a species of flowering plant in the family Celastraceae, native to much of Europe, where it inhabits the edges of forest, hedges and gentle slopes, tending to thrive on nutrient-rich, chalky and salt-poor soils. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree.


Euonymus europaeus grows to 3–6 m (10–20 ft) tall, rarely 10 m (33 ft), with a stem up to 20 cm (8 in) in diameter. The leaves are opposite, lanceolate to elliptical, 3–8 cm long and 1–3 cm broad, with a finely serrated edge. Leaves are dark green in summer. Autumn colour ranges from yellow-green to reddish-purple, depending on environmental conditions.[1]

The hermaphrodite flowers are produced in late spring and are insect-pollinated; they are rather inconspicuous, small, yellowish green and grow in cymes of 3–8 together. The capsular fruit ripens in autumn, and is red to purple or pink in colour and approximately 1–1.5 cm wide. When ripe, the four lobes split open to reveal the orange seeds.

Habitat and ecology

E. europaeus occurs as an understory shrub or small tree primarily in old hedgerows, open woodland clearings and margins, and scrubland on base-rich or calcareous soils, although it is also shade-tolerant. It rarely invades open habitats such as grasslands except in the presence of abundant hedges[2] In Ireland, it can also be found growing on rocky limestone outcrops, rocky lake shores and limestone pavements.[3]

It is typical in Fraxinus excelsiorAcer campestreMercurialis perennis woodland (W8), and it is a frequent companion of Cornus sanguinea in open-stand scrub over limestone, generally in low frequency and abundance throughout.[4] It is usually scattered in distribution but may occasionally occur remarkably commonly on a local scale, such as in the so-called ‘’Spindle Valley’’ in the Chilterns.[5] The scattered distribution is likely limited by dispersal of seeds via birds and rodents.[6]

E. europaeus is the almost exclusive winter host of the black bean aphid.[7] Because of the potential economic loss from this insect that feeds on cultivated broad beans and sugar beet, spindle in the past was commonly removed from hedges and woodlands as a measure against black bean aphid outbreaks and agricultural yield losses, although this widespread removal does not appear to have impacted current populations. In 1944, The Biology War Committee also began a campaign to investigate the distribution and ecology of E. europeaus as a basis for aphid control measures.[2]

Cultivation and uses

It is a popular ornamental plant in gardens and parks due to its bright pink or purple fruits and attractive autumn colouring.

In cultivation in the UK, the cultivar 'Red Cascade' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[8][9]

European spindle wood is very hard, and can be cut to a sharp point; it was used in the past for making spindles for wool-spinning and for butchers' skewers.[10]

Charcoal produced from this plant is seen as superior among artists due to its strength and density.

Parts of the plant have been used medicinally.[11] However, the fruit is poisonous, containing, amongst other substances, the alkaloids theobromine and caffeine, as well as a large number of much more toxic substances and an extremely bitter terpene. Poisonings are more common in young children, who are enticed by the brightly coloured fruits. Ingestion can result in liver and kidney damage and even death.[12]


  • Euonymus multiflorus Opiz ex Bercht. [1838]
  • Euonymus floribundus Steven [1856]
  • Euonymus europaeus var. macrophyllus Rchb.
  • Euonymus europaeus var. intermedius Gaudin
  • Euonymus bulgaricus Velen. [1891]
  • Euonymus vulgaris Mill. [1768]
  • Euonymus angustifolius Clairv.[13]



  1. ^ Dirr, Michael A. 1998. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 5th edi
  2. ^ a b Thomas PA, El-Bargathi, Polwart A. 2011. Biological Flora of the British Isles: Euonymous europaeus L. Journal of Ecology 99: 345 – 365.
  3. ^ Green P. 2008. Flora of County Waterford. National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.
  4. ^ Rodwell JS. 1991. British Plant Communities. Vol. 1. Woodlands and Scrub. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
  5. ^ Snow B, Snow D. 1988. Birds and Berries. Poyser, Calton, UK.
  6. ^ Grubb PJ, Lee WG, Kollmann J, Wilson JB. 1996. Interaction of irradiance and soil nutrient supply on growth of seedlings of ten European tallshrub species and Fagus sylvatica. Journal of Ecology 84: 827 – 840.
  7. ^ Way MJ, Cammell ME. 1982. The distribution and abundance of the spindle tree Euonymous europaeus in southern England with reference to forecasting infestations of the black bean aphid Aphis fabae. Journal of Applied Ecology 19: 929 – 940.
  8. ^ "Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade' AGM". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  9. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 37. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  10. ^ Clapham, A. R. (1975). The Oxford Book of Trees. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.31.
  11. ^ Plants for a Future: Euonymus europaeus
  12. ^ "Beware the poisonous autumn berries!". Fat Hen The Wild Cookery School. October 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  13. ^ "Tela Botánica". Archived from the original on 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2011-09-06.

External links