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SPINDLE

EUROPEAN SPINDLE

Euonymus europaeus

Spindle Family [Celastraceae]

Flowers:
month8may month8jun month8june

Berries: berryZpossible        berryZpink berryZorange  (poisonous, pink casing, orange berry-like seed)
berry8Jul berry8July berry8Aug berry8Sep berry8Sept berry8Oct berry8Nov berry8Dec

category
category8Trees
category
category8Shrubs
category
category8Deciduous
category
category8Broadleaf
status
statusZnative
flower
flower8cream
inner
inner8green
morph
morph8actino
petals
petalsZ4
type
typeZclustered
stem
stem8square
stem
stem8fluted
toxicity
toxicityZmedium

18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
A deciduous tall shrub or small tree to 5m or more.


18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Inconspicuous and un-noteworthy until the berries appear in November, as here.


31st July 2009, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
After the in-conspicuous green flowers come the berries, green at first. Leaves mid-green, opposite, veined and slightly toothed.


31st Aug 2009, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
The berry casings turn pinkish. Leaves not glossy as they are on Evergreen Spindle (Euonymus japonica)


18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The berry casings then turn a shocking pink and some split open revealing four lurid-orange seeds. Leaves starting to turn reddish or brownish before falling off altogether in december.


22nd Sept 2010, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Shocking pink berries in stalked drooping clusters. Leaves may turn reddish too.


31st Aug 2009, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
From below the berry is four-lobed, with each lobe also being lobed into two.


12th Oct 2009, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
From above, the remains of the four sepals just above the berry.


18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The four lurid-orange seeds within the pink berry swell to break apart the berry casing.


22nd Sept 2010, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Another two orange seeds lurk unseen within the other half which has yet to split open.


18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Orange seeds ripe enough to be dispersed by birds. They are poisonous to humans.


22nd Sept 2010, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Your Author physically prized open this berry further in order to see inside it where three of the seeds had been.


19th May 2011, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Flowers mostly inconspicuous and creamy green.


19th May 2011, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Flowers have four creamy-green petals, which seem thinner than they are because they are in-rolled (obvious only from underneath), four stamens and a central yellow-tipped style. Note the 4 pale-green short and half-round sepals which are now bent backwards underneath the flower.


19th May 2011, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Both style and stamens subsumed by enlarging ovary that will become berries.


19th May 2011, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
Stamens bend over at tip and have creamy-yellow anthers/pollen.


18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The stems are round at first.


13th May 2011, Helsington Barrows, south Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The stems are long round and straight which made them attractive for use as drop-spindles for spinning wool, the enlarged joint where the leaves once were was especially useful for gripping the disc-shaped weight which was used like a flywheel to retain rotary inertia when it was spun around. Hence the moniker 'spindle' for this shrub/tree. Leaves have finely serrated edges.


18th Nov 2008, Bugsworth, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
A bud at the end of a shoot.


27th June 2009, Blackleach mineral line, Walkden. Photo: © RWD
The bark, deep green with faint brown fissures which look like wriggling snakes.


Many similarities to : Large-leaved Spindle (Euonymus latifolius) but that has larger leaves 7-15cm long and which are more abruptly pointed, but the biggest difference is that they also have flowers with five petals/sepals rather than four (and also larger, five-lobed berries with each lobe having a distinct wing or flange which are distinctly carmine red rather than shocking-pink and containing five seeds, not four). It is native to the UK and if found in the wild this tree is a good indicator of an ancient wood.

Slight resemblance to : Evergreen Spindle (Euonymus japonica) which is evergreen rather than deciduous, the leaves are glossy rather than satin and are bluntly oval.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

The berry or fruit capsule is 4-lobed and shocking-pink in colour. It contains the seeds which have a fleshy bright orange covering called an 'aril', the seeds themselves are white (or black?) within the aril. the aril represents an attractive juicy offering to birds, who will help disperse the seeds far and wide. The bark, leaves, fruit and seeds are poisonous. Ingestion of the fruit can result in kidney or liver damage and sometimes death. Parts of the plant have been used medicinally as a cardiotonic, emetic or purgative and is also active against insects and vermin. It contains, amongst other compounds Theobromine (in the seeds) and Theophylline and Caffeine (in the leaves) as well as an extremely bitter terpene, which many sources mention but no-one actually names and of which your Author has been unable to find on the internet and he therefore doubts that it exists. (There can't be that many terpenes [before they become sesquiterpenes, diterpenes or triterpenes etc].

The other constituents of European Spindle are three Cardenolides: Evonoside, Evomonoside and Evobioside. Also nine alkaloids: Evorine (aka Neoevonine), Isoevorine, Evonoline, Evonine, Isoevonine and Franganine, Frangulanine. These are all poisonous. Symptoms of poisoning may include irritation of the gastrointenstinal tract, nausea, hallucinations, extensive vomiting, hypothermia and shock, liver and kidney effects, arrhythmia, strong muscular convulsions and coma after 12 hours followed by cardiac arrest.

The wood of the tree (and also the poisonous fruit and the seed) on boiling yield a good edible yellow dye that is used to colour butter. Used with alum as the mordant yields a green dye, but both yellow and greens obtained this way are fugitive.

CARDENOLIDES


Cardenolides are a type of steroidal compound with a 5-membered spiro-lactone. The two above are Cardenolide Glycosides not dissimilar to Digoxin or Hellebrin and are glycosides of Digitoxigenin (aka Evonogenin). They are cardiac glycosides affecting the heart. Evonoside is a triglycoside, containing two glucose units and one of the monosaccharide rhamnose. Evonomoside is a monoglycoside. The glycosides are shown in red and when metabolised within the body the cardelolide loses the sugar units to become the aglycone (meaning 'without sugar') and in this form they are poisonous.

EUONYMINOL and ALKALOIDS


The alkaloids are all based upon Euonyminol, shown on the right, a polyhydroxylated sugar-like compound with a fused furan ring found as decomposition products of some other plants from the same Spindle Family (Celastraceae), which, lacking any nitrogen atoms, is not in itself an alkaloid and is not actually found in European Spindle.

Evonine, as well as Evorine (aka Neoevonine), Isoevorine and Isoevonine are all based upon Nicotinic Acid salts of Euoniminol which makes them alkaloids with slight alterations to the side groups. They all have a large ring containing many atoms. They are not dis-similar in chemical make-up to the Cathedulin alkaloids found in Khat which are also based upon Euonyminol.

CYCLO-PEPTIDE ALKALOIDS


Franganine and Frangulanine are quite different to the above alkaloids. They are cyclo-peptide alkaloids with a 14-membered ring and four nitrogen atoms which are also found in the extract from the root bark of Discaria americana, a non-native xerophytic shrub belonging to the Rhamnaceae family and which lives in symbiosis with an actinomycete gram-positive bacterium from the Genus Frankia. There is just one extra group in Frangulanine than in Franganine (right centre). Both are constituents of the leaves, stems, roots and root bark of European Spindle, as well as Frangufoline, a similar compound with two complete benzene rings instead of just the one of Franganine and Frangulanine. A plethora of similar cyclo-peptide compounds far too many to name let alone depict are also found in a multitude of other plants from differing families - you draw it, some plant will synthesize it.


  Euonymus europaeus  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Celastraceae  

Distribution
 family8Spindle family8Celastraceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Euonymus
Euonymus
(Spindles)

SPINDLE

EUROPEAN SPINDLE

Euonymus europaeus

Spindle Family [Celastraceae]