Spin­dle spec­ta­cle

Val ex­plains why the or­na­men­tal and wildlife-friendly spin­dle tree, or Euony­mus, de­lights her in au­tumn

Amateur Gardening - - Gardening Week -

THERE’S one plant that re­ally sets me alight in au­tumn and that’s the spin­dle tree, or Euony­mus, be­cause I love the vivid fruits. Each one forms a carousel of bright pink with dan­gling or­ange seeds that seem to lean out­wards like fair­ground swings in full pelt. I can still re­mem­ber the first time I ever saw one as a teenager, for I came from the city. I stood and stared at the spec­ta­cle, open-mouthed.

I have three of these plants at Spring Cot­tage and the fo­liage colours up well, al­though they do drop their leaves early. In win­ter, red scrolled buds de­velop so it’s a lovely thing through­out the year. The most hand­some one I grow is Euony­mus pla­nipes, an up­right Asian spin­dle with a vase-like habit. The leaves colour up to olive-green in Septem­ber, but there is an­other called ‘San­cho’ that pro­duces dam­son fo­liage in au­tumn.

We have our own na­tive form in our hedgerows and woods, E. eu­ro­peaus, and this can live for 100 years-plus. Some of these vet­eran trees are al­most like land­marks. The se­lected gar­den form, ‘Red Cas­cade’, bears lots of fruits and you could also grow E. ala­tus. This has corky wings on the bark that stand out in win­ter light.

The straight twigs were used as spin­dles for spin­ning, hold­ing wool, skew­ers, tooth­picks, pegs and knit­ting nee­dles. The fruits were baked and pow­dered and used to treat head lice, or mange in cat­tle. It’s a case of don’t try this at home though, for the purga­tive leaves and fruit are toxic to hu­mans. They’ve been known to kill sheep.

The leaves are eaten by some moth cater­pil­lars, in­clud­ing the mag­pie, spin­dle er­mine, scorched car­pet and a va­ri­ety of mi­cro moths, as well as the holly blue but­ter­fly. The small, yel­low­green flow­ers are full of pollen and nec­tar In May. Green flow­ers at­tract flies and of­ten have a musty smell.

The fruits are highly nu­tri­tious for birdlife and robins adore them, fight­ing to keep other birds away from their prized bush. Male robins are very ag­gres­sive and it’s said that 10 per cent of older robins die de­fend­ing their ter­ri­tory. You don’t have to wait un­til spring to hear the high-pitched song of robins, ei­ther. They’re very ter­ri­to­rial and sing through­out win­ter as well, al­though not nearly as melod­i­cally. In full breed­ing mode their mu­si­cal song sounds al­most flute-like and they show them­selves off as they sing.

The name ‘robin’ is rel­a­tively mod­ern: be­fore the 15th cen­tury the bird was com­monly known as the red­breast, rud­dock or robi­net.

“The fruits are highly nu­tri­tious for birdlife”

Robins sing their high-pitched song through­out win­ter

Euony­mus ala­tus has corky ‘wings’ on its bark that stand out in win­ter light

Euony­mus pla­nipes is an up­right Asian spin­dle with a vase-like habit

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