When I first saw a shrubby tree in our local “wilderness” with bright pink fruit, I took a closer look. The bright pink part was actually the casing that enclosed an even brighter shiny orange fruit that looked like a berry. The pink petals split apart and pulled back from the orange part to make a vivid colour contrast. I was sure it was some sort of alien invasive as that particular park is full of garden escapees and bird-planted bushes none of which are natural in southern Ontario.
A quick hunt around the internet brought up the name of this pretty alien: Spindle Tree, or Euonymus europaeus. As soon as I saw the name I realized why the fruit looked so familiar. It’s very similar to the smaller, plainer fruit on our decorative backyard euonymus bushes.
Why is the Tree with the Neat Pink-Petalled Orange Fruit Called a Spindle Tree?
Spindles are those straight, sharp pieces of wood used for spinning fibres into yarn. Many of them are shaped somewhat like spinning tops but with a very long needle at the one end. Remember the old story about Sleeping Beauty? Apparently she didn’t stab herself on a piece of a spinning wheel; she stabbed herself with her (poisoned) spindle.
You can probably see where this one’s going. Euonymus EUROPAEUS. Spindles. Yes, the spindle tree is a European plant that was often used to make spindles. According to a druidery website (!) and Ashridge Nurseries the wood is fine grained, strong and splits easily.
I actually like the name of this invasive.
A Berry by Another Name is an Aril
Have you ever eaten a pomegranate? If so, you may know from the extensive advertising by the POM people, that those red seed-like things you eat out of the middle are called arils.
Please be aware that the fruits are highly poisonous and several children have become quite ill after eating them, according to the government of Canada biodiversity information group.
Why is this Alien Invasive So Successful and Spreading Well in Southern Ontario?
This Euonymous is a deciduous tree. It can have multiple trunks. According to the website for Carleton Place Nursery Ltd it is quite tolerant of pollution, various soil types and almost all degrees of soil moisture. That probably explains why it does so well in reclaiming disturbed ground.
According to Toronto’s High Park Nature website both spindle tree and winged euonymus are spread by birds eating the seeds. The seeds pass through the bird and are dropped and germinate quickly in a new location.
So we have a plant with a seed that birds like to eat and then, er, pass on, dropping it in new locations. The plant then grows under almost any conditions. Sounds like a good recipe for an assertive invasive.
Management of this Invasive Intruder
Various organizations in southern Ontario are monitoring species like the Spindle Tree and developing programs to manage their spread. You can read one such report by the Credit Valley Conservation Authority at http://www.creditvalleyca.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/091201-RattrayInvasiveMgmntPlan.pdf.
The Other Orange Berry Bush in Southern Ontario
There is another alien invasive on the prowl in Ontario with orange fruit. It is called Sea Buckthorn. From the photos I’ve seen, though, the fruit is often in a long collection at the end of a branch. I haven’t yet seen a Sea Buckthorn to recognize it, so unfortunately I don’t have any photos. If you search for it on the internet there are lots of images. There are some possible health benefits to the fruit which is leading to increased awareness of the plant. Its fruit is also eaten by birds and the seeds are dispersed hither and yon.
Have you got Spindle Trees In your neck of the woods? Please share your experiences with a comment.