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Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree

Summary

An uncommon tree, in the UK, possibly, because its attractiveness to aphids makes it unwelcome.

Family

Celastraceae

Meaning of the Name

Euonymus
From the Greek, ‘eu’, ‘good’ and ‘onama’, ‘name’. Said to have meant ‘lucky’ and to have been used ironically because it was an unwelcome plant. Or, from 'Euonyme', the mother of the Furies and, thus, a reference to its poisonous nature.
 
europaeus
European

Common Names and Synonyms

European euonymus, spindle tree, prick timber, prickwood, spindleberry.

Sources - William Turner

William Turner was born in Morpeth, Northumberland, in 1508 and studied Physick and Philosophy at Cambridge. He was a radical Protestant cleric who spent long periods in exile in Europe because his views, his writings and his actions put his life in danger in England.

Much of his time in Europe was spent studying natural history in Italy. He was able to return to England in 1558, after Queen Mary’s death, and resumed his position as Dean of Wells. He died in London in 1568 shortly after publication of the final part of his ‘A New Herball’.

‘A New Herball’ was published in three parts.  Part 1 was published in 1551 in Europe and contains many errors, mostly because it was printed by non-English speakers who could not correct the proofs.  The second part was published in 1562 and the third in 1568 along with a fully revised version of the first part.

Turner is now said to be the ‘Father of Botany’ but his political views and his long periods of exile meant he was not as famous as Gerard who followed him by thirty years.

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

The poisonous components have not been fully defined. The effects suggest the presence of glycosides. Early literature gives a variety of names to possible components but these are all variations on the plant name.

Though the poison is present throughout the plant it is the berries which, most often*, cause harm. Symptoms appear up to 12 hours after ingestion and involve diarrhoea, vomiting and stimulation of the heart. Larger doses can cause hallucinations, loss of consciousness and symptoms similar to meningitis.

Its 'loathsome smell and bitter taste' discourage consumption.

*'Most often' should be understood as 'of the extremely few cases, most'.

Incidents

There are no fully documented incidents involving ingestion of the berries and, although John Gerard says they can easily kill, he goes on to say that goats are especially at risk.

There has been one reported instance of problems arising from working with the wood and care is required to prevent inhalation of the sawdust.

Folklore and Facts

William Turner is known as the ‘Father of Botany’ mostly because of his ‘A New Herball’ published in the 16th century. In it, he gives the name ‘spindle tree’ to the Euonymus europaeus because he says he cannot find an English name for it so the Dutch name, spilboome, may as well be used.

The flowers are pollinated by flies. In some parts of Africa its juice was used as an arrow poison. The yellow dye obtained by boiling the seeds was used for colouring butter. If the tree flowered early an outbreak of plague was thought to be imminent.

The tree offers a perfect winter nesting site for black bean aphids and is, therefore, unwelcome in many gardens.

IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.

 

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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree