Spindle tree

The Vivaldi amongst garden bloomers

Flowers in spring, foliage in summer, berries in autumn and winter -  you can enjoy the spindle tree all year round. 

Spindle tree Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Spindle tree (officially called Euonymus europaea) has many faces. The pale green flowers are bunched together like small crosses in large clusters. The leaves and branches are green. In the autumn, the plant produces fruit which burst open and show orange seeds. After the first night frost, the leaves and berries usually fall from the bush. But unless it’s an Arctic winter, the seed pods usually stay in place. And really it’s then that this shrub looks its best: nothing other than branches bearing bright pink balls during season everything is still bare and colourless. Spindle tree comes as a shrub, a standard and a climber. And if you find bare branches too stripped down, there are also evergreen species. 

Plant for all 

The spindle tree is a member of the Celastraceae, its own spindle family.  There are some 180 species, and they grow in Europe, Asia and the temperate regions of Australia and North America. The best-known are E. japonicus and E. fortunei. You can mainly see the evergreen species in gardens, and the deciduous species in parks. The plant can grow rapidly - under ideal conditions a spindle tree can reach 6 m in height and live 100 years. Is very unusual in that new shoots start of round, then becomes square, and then round again. So there’s plenty going on. 


  • The scientific name Euonymus derives from the Greek, and means 'good name'. A bit of irony on the part of an ancient Greek name-giver, since the spindle tree is extremely poisonous to humans. However, some animals and birds love it.

  • The spindle tree’s light, compact wood is hard and strong. It’s used to make charcoal for artists, knitting needles and musical instruments. In the past, it was popular for cutting spindles for spinning wheels - hence the common name of ‘spindle tree’. 

  • Evergreen spindle trees can be placed successfully in containers and bowls combined with annuals or perennials.