Friday, 10 October 2008

The Spindle Tree

I had not been aware of this wayside tree until yesterday when I was walking the Uffington stretch of the Ridgeway. This part of the Ridgeway differs from the Wiltshire section, which has rolling open views of the downs, in having quite dense hedgerows along it - yesterday they seemed to be laden with berries. I saw some the most opulent of hawthorns, buckthorn, elder, blackberries (now gone over) with lots of woody nightshade intertwined in the foliage.

The Spindle Tree seems to have very little written about it and, until it comes into berry, it is often mistaken for the buckthorn. The unusual pinkish-red of its berries mark it out from our more familiar autumn berries. It is also known as the Euonymus europaeus, said to derive from Euonyme, the mother of Furies - because of the harmful toxic properties of its berries, bark and leaves.
The berries do, however, yield a yellow dye and the burnt wood produces artists' charcoal. Formerly the wood was used for making spindles and looms - and later for skewers and musical instruments.