Secrets of the spindle tree
In the autumn the spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus, is characterised by pink fruits, which look a little like a mini pumpkin, hanging down from the tree, with its remaining leaves having turned a warming orange/red or sometimes even purple. The fruit acts as a food source for birds as well as mammals such as rodents, which will then in turn disperse the seeds. Leaves are opposite with toothed margins, but this time of year they’re likely to have already fallen from their tree.
This species is often found in hedgerows, scrub and along woodland edges, but favours limestone soils. It can also form part of the woodland understorey, along with tree species such as oaks, ash and field maple (Thomas et al, 1992). This tree is tolerant to the winter months as well as shady conditions. Spindle is easily identified when it has hanging pink fruit but another good identification tip is that if you run two fingers along the stem you can feel it has a slightly square shape to it. In spring and summer when flowering this tree displays small clusters of white/green flowers.
There are however other species of spindle tree which can be confused with Euonymus europaeus, such as the large-leaved spindle tree, Euonymus latifolius. This species can be distinguished by the trees’ buds which are around 1cm but only around 5 mm in Euonymus europaeus. The tree twigs are also said to be less angled, an identification feature more useful at this time of year when there are few leaves on the tree.
Thomas, P., El-Barghathi, M. and Polwart, A. (1992) ‘Biological floral of the British Isles: Euonymus europaeus L.’, Journal of Ecology, 99, 345-365.
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