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' (Yew,
Nutmeg and species of
Oxalis (such as Wood-Sorrel) are other plants which also have arils rather than berries), 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:
Evobioside. Also nine alkaloids:
Evorine (aka Neoevonine),
Frangulanine. These are all poisonous. Symptoms of poisoning may include irritation of the gastrointestinal 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 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.
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
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.