Tree Lore: Spindle
by Gwylim O. Davies
(irish oir - welsh piswydden - ogham OI)
The wood of the spindle tree is bright, colourful and was used to make spindles. With this in mind we can see why it came to embody creative inspiration, purification, initiation and blessings.
The sister to europos is the arrow wood in the US. ‘Ornamental varieties are also available for landscaping with green and variegated varieties common in England. … Euonymus is associated with Euonyme, mother of the Furies, due to the plant's irritating properties. It was employed by Native Americans for a number of ailments. It was a popular diuretic drug during the 19th century. Early in this century it was discovered to have digitalis-like effects. The wood of E. europus was used to make ox-goads and another of its names - Prickwood - was derived from its use as toothpicks. - The Backyard Herbalist
It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from September to November. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. - Plants for a Future
Well this ogham plant stuff grows on one, especially this beautiful, practical, and poisonous hermaphrodite; another plant whose varieties can become a serious weed problem when transported from one continent to another.
For our ovate and ogham studies the sound or letters are 'OI', from the irish oir. It is the second of the last group of five ogham characters, which according to my readings were added to the original ogham because it didn’t seem to have enough sounds. So I think of it as one of the ogham 5 royal figures, not just some common old letters.
As a summary introduction, for those who don’t have time for all the details provided below, the following description is useful:
The Spindle Tree found in our hedges and copses is a smooth-leaved shrub. The leaves have very short stalks, are opposite in pairs and have minute teeth on the margin. It bears small greenish-white flowers, in loose clusters, during May and June, followed by an abundance of fruits. The fruit is three or more lobed, and becomes a beautiful rose-red colour; it bursts when ripe, disclosing ruddy-orange-coloured seeds, which are wrapped in a scarlet arillus. This yields a good yellow dye when boiled in water, and a green one with the addition of alum, but these dyes are fugitive. The berries attract children, but are harmful, for they are strongly emetic and purgative: they have proved fatal to sheep. The bark, leaves and fruit are all injurious, and no animal but the goat will browse upon them.
The Latin name for Spindle is Fusus, and by some of the old writers this plant is called Fusanum and the Fusoria. By the Italians it is still called Fusano. The fruit is given three or four as a dose, as a purgative in rural districts; and the decoction, adding some vinegar, is used as a lotion for mange in horses and cattle. In allusion to the actively irritating properties of the shrub, its name Euonymus is associated with that of Euonyme, the mother of the Furies. In old herbals it is called Skewerwood or prickwood (the latter from its employment as toothpicks), and gatter, gatten, or gadrose. Chaucer, in one of his poems, calls it gaitre.
Prior says, 'Gatter is from the Anglo-Saxon words, gad (a goad) and treow (a tree); gatten is made up of gad again and tan (a twig); and gadrise is from gad and hris (a rod).'
The same hardness that fitted it for skewers, spindles, etc., made it useful for the ox-goad.
Turner apparently christened the tree ‘Spindle Tree’. He says,
I coulde never learne an Englishe name for it. The Duche men call it in Netherlande, spilboome, that is, spindel-tree, because they use to make spindels of it in that country, and me thynke it may be as well named in English seying we have no other name. . . . I know no goode propertie that this tree hath, saving only it is good to make spindels and brid of cages (bird-cages).
The wood, which is of a light yellow hue, strong, compact and easily worked, fulfils many uses. On the Continent it is used for making pipe-stems, and an excellent charcoal is made from the young shoots, which artists approve for its smoothness, and the ease with which it can be erased. It is also employed in the making of gunpowder.
So the lesson from studying this plant is: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or things change from positive to negative, and so on. I think that goes with the description of the plant as having hermaphrodite flowers
Botanical & Scientific Description
Common on chalky and limestone soils. Grey, smooth bark and small greeny flowers in summer that give way to pink fruits which, in turn, split to reveal an orange seed. Leaves turn red in autumn. Food plant of the Holly Blue butterfly. The tree has also been known as Prickwood, Skewerwood (due to being made into toothpicks) and Pincushion Shrub. The name euonymous associates the plant with Euonyme, who was the Mother of the Fairies. It is a favourite tree of robins, so much so that it is also known as Robins' bread.
The spindles, genus Euonymus, comprise about 170-180 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees. They have a wide distribution in Europe, Asia, Australasia, North America and Madagascar.
The leaves are opposite (rarely alternate) and simple ovoid, typically 2-15 cm long, and usually with a finely serrated margin. The flowers are small, usually greenish white and inconspicuous.
The fruit is a pink-red four- or five- valved pod-like berry, which splits open to reveal the fleshy-coated orange seeds. The seeds are eaten by frugivorous birds, which digest the fleshy seed coat and disperse the seeds in their droppings. All parts of the plants are poisonous to humans if eaten.
This group consists of 170 evergreen and deciduous shrubs, small trees, creepers and climbers. Euonymus (Spindletree) are found wild throughout North and Central America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. These plants make great hedges, edging, and ground covers. The deciduous varieties are valued for their vividly colored fruits and gorgeous autumn colors. The evergreen types are valued for their handsome foliage, which is usually multicolored, as well as their tolerance to the salty sprays and winds of coastal regions. Spindle Trees produce their insignificant flowers in the spring or early summer. They are normally green or purplish and are followed, in mid-summer, by dazzling fruits, which open to reveal equally attractive seeds. Sometimes the fruit, seeds, and aril will all be contrasting colors. E. alatus (Winged Euonymus; Burning Bush) is a gorgeous, deciduous, medium-sized shrub that is one of the best for its autumn foliage, which turns bright crimson. The reddish-purple fruits open to reveal bright orange-colored seeds. E. fortunei var. Emerald 'n' Gold is an attractive, compact, dwarf shrub with dark green leaves edged with a wide band of brilliant gold. In the winter, this golden band turns creamy white stained with pink. If provided with support, this variety will climb. E. fortunei var. Silver Queen is another pretty, small-sized shrub, although it can reach a height of 8 to 10 feet against a wall. In the spring, the leaves unfurl with a pale yellow color, eventually turning green with a wide, white edge. Occasionally, this shrub will produce light green flowers that are followed by pink fruits. E. grandiflorus is a slow-growing semi-evergreen shrub that can grow up to 13 feet high. It produces large, yellow flowers and yellow fruits with scarlet seeds. The foliage turns wine-purple in the autumn. E. latifolius (Broadleaf Euonymus) is a deciduous plant that ranges in height from 11 to 16 feet. It has large, scarlet fruits and vivid autumn foliage.
E. europaeus’ american sister plant is worthy of note, the Arrow Wood: An attractive perennial to about 6 feet or taller with smooth ash-brown bark and small dark purplish flowers and purple tinged leaves with serrated edges native to the eastern United States.
ARROW WOOD (Euonymous atropurpurea). aka Bitter Ash, Bonnet-de-pretre (Fr), Burning bush, Dogwood, Fusain (Fr), Fusanum, Fusoria, Gadrose, Gatten, Gatter, Indian Arrowood, Pigwood, Pegwood, Prickwood, Skewerwood, Spindelbaume (Ger), Spindle tree, Wahoo. Also: (E. europaeus) and (E. americanus.)
Practical & Non-herbal Uses
The wood was traditionally used for the making of spindles for spinning wool; this use is the origin of the English name of the shrubs. … Spindles are popular garden shrubs, grown for their foliage, the deciduous species often exhibiting very bright red fall colours, and also for the decorative berries.
Was traditionally used in spindles for looms. Charcoal was made from the young shoots and also used in making gunpowder. Pegs have also been made from the wood. The fruits (which are poisonous) yield a yellow dye when boiled in water, or green if boiled in alum.
The wood of E. europus was used to make ox-goads and another of its names - Prickwood - was derived from its use as toothpicks. It was used by the Dutch to make spindles and by others to make bird cages and pipe-stems. An artist's charcoal was made from the young stems and it was also employed in the making of gunpowder.
Summary of Other Uses
Charcoal; Dye; Insecticide; Latex; Oil; Parasiticide; Wood.
The whole plant yields a volatile oil that is used in soap making. Other reports say that the oil is obtained from the seed. It is possible that there are two oils, an essential oil from the plant and an oil from the seed. A good yellow dye is obtained from the fleshy coating around the seeds. This becomes green with the addition of alum, but unfortunately both colours are rather fugitive. The baked and powdered berries are used to remove lice from the hair[6, 19, 66], they are also used as an insecticide. The leaves are used. Roots yield up to 4% gutta-percha, a non elastic rubber used as an electrical insulation and for making plastics. Wood - very hard, easily split, fine-grained, not durable. Used for spindles, skewers, knitting needles, toothpicks, carving etc. A high quality charcoal is obtained from the wood, it is used by artists.
Herbal & Medicinal Uses
(Euonymus europaeus LINN.)
Synonyms: Fusanum. Fusoria. Skewerwood. Prickwood. Gatter. Gatten. Gadrose. Pigwood. Dogwood. Indian Arrowroot. Burning Bush. Wahoo.
(French) Fusain. Bonnet-de-prêtre.
Parts Used: Root, bark, berries.
Contains: Bitter principle, a resin (euonymin), euonic acid, a crystalline glucoside, asparagin, resins, fat, dulcitol, culvitol and 14% ash, plus some resins.
ALL PARTS, especially the fruits and seeds, are POISONOUS.
This herb is NOT recommended for home use.
Leaves and fruit can cause various symptoms of poisoning.
Decoction of the fruit has been used to treat mange in horses and cattle. Contains a resin called euonymin, which stimulates appetite and the liver. The baked fruits were powdered and rubbed into hair as a remedy for headlice.
Constituents: Little is definitely known of the chemical constituents of Euonymus Bark. Its chief constituent is a nearly colourless intensely bitter principle, a resin called Euonymin. There are also present euonic acid, a crystalline glucoside, asparagin, resins, fat, dulcitol, and 14 per cent of ash. Commercial Euonymin is a powdered extract.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Tonic, alterative, cholagogue, laxative and hepatic stimulant.
In small doses, Euonymin stimulates the appetite and the flow of the gastric juice. In larger doses, it is irritant to the intestine and is cathartic. It has slight diuretic and expectorant effects, but its only use is as a purgative in cases of constipation in which the liver is disordered, and for which it is particularly efficacious. It is specially valuable in liver disorders which follow or accompany fever. It is mildly aperient and causes no nausea, at the same time stimulating the liver somewhat freely, and promoting a free flow of bile.
To make the decoction, add an ounce to a pint of water and boil together slowly. A small wineglassful to be given, when cold, for a dose, two or three times a day.
Of the tincture made with spirit from the bark, 5 to 10 drops may be taken in water or on sugar.
Euonymin is generally given in pill form and in combination with other tonics, laxatives, etc.
Preparations: Fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Powdered extract, B.P. and U.S.P., 2 grains. Euonymin, 1 to 4 grains.
Other Species: The green leaves of one species of Euonymus are said to be eaten by the Arabs to produce watchfulness, and a sprig of it is believed to be - to the person who carries it - a protection from plague. Another species is said to inflict painful wounds.
Parts Used: The variety of Spindle Tree (Euonymus atropurpureus), common in the eastern United States, is known there as Wahoo, Burning Bush, or Indian Arrowwood. This is the kind generally used in medicine. It is a shrub about 6 feet high, with a smooth ash-coloured bark, and has small dark purple flowers and leaves purple-tinged at the serrated edges. Wahoo bark, as it is called commercially, is the dried root-bark of this species. The root-bark is alone official, but the stem-bark is also collected and used as a substitute. The root-bark, when dried, is in quilled or curved pieces, 1/12 to 1/6 inch thick, ash-grey, with blackish ridges or patches, outer surface whitish, or slightly tawny and quite smooth. Fracture friable, smooth, whitish, the inner layer appearing tangentially striated. The taste is sweetish, bitter and acrid. It has a very faint, characteristic odour, resembling liquorice.The stem-bark is in longer quills, with a smooth outer surface, with lichens usually present on it, and a greenish layer under the epidermis.
Alterative; Cholagogue; Hepatic; Laxative; Purgative; Stimulant; Tonic.
The bark is alterative, cholagogue, hepatic, laxative, stimulant and tonic. The root bark is the part normally used, though bark from the stems is sometimes employed as a substitute. In small doses it stimulates the appetite, in larger doses it irritates the intestines. The bark is especially useful in the treatment of liver disorders which follow or accompany fevers. The seeds are strongly emetic and purgative. The fresh leaves, and the dried fruit and seeds, are used externally to treat scabies, lice (head, body or pubic), ticks and other skin parasites.
The sister to the European version in the US, the Arrow Wood '…was employed by Native Americans for a number of ailments. It was a popular diuretic drug during the 19th century. Early in this century it was discovered to have digitalis-like effects.'
Euonymous europaeus: … Known commonly as Lousewood and deriving that name from the practice of baking, powdering and sprinkling the fruits on the heads of children with lice. The berries are emetic and purgative and have proved fatal to sheep.
The American variety E. atropurpurea is the medicinal variety, but in folk medicine E. europus has been used as well. Three or 4 berries were taken as a purgative.
Also, a decoction made with the addition of vinegar was used for mange in horses and cattle.
Euonymous americanus: Was used in much the same manner as E. atropurpurea. The root tea was used for uterine prolapse, vomiting of blood, stomachaches, painful urination, and a wash for swellings. The tea has also been used for malaria, indigestion, liver congestion, constipation, lung afflictions. The powdered bark applied to the scalp was believed to eliminate dandruff.
How to use the Spindle Tree is described as follows:
Harvest: The root and stem barks are usually harvested from wild stock in the autumn and dried. The root bark is dried in quilled pieces 1/12th to 1/6th inch thick. There is a very faint licorice-type odor.
Solvent: Water and alcohol.
Cultivation & Care
Plant in any soil, sun or partial shade. Do not plant in farm hedges where beet and bean crops are growing as Spindle is the host plant for beet and bean aphids.
Propagation: Ripe seed should be sown in fall (requires stratification and is viable for 2 years); by semi-ripe cuttings in late summer. It is easily propagated by inserting the tips of branches about 3 inches in length into sandy soil in autumn or late summer and keeping them damp. Most of the deciduous kinds can be increased by sowing seeds in sandy soil in a cold frame in the fall. They can also be increased by taking cuttings and layering branches outside in September or by detaching suckers. The evergreen kinds are increased by cuttings inserted in a propagating case in a greenhouse in late summer or early fall. Low-growing kinds can be increased by division in the spring as well as by cuttings.
Needs: Well-drained soil in sun or part shade. Thin out shoots in late winter to maintain shape. Common pests are aphids, scale insects, and spider mites.
Cultivation: It is found in woods and hedgerows. The green and variegated Spindle Trees are familiar in British gardens. They all grow freely in any kind of soil, and are easily increased by inserting the ripened tips of the branches, about 3 inches long, into a fine, sandy loam in autumn, keeping them damp and fresh with a frequent spraying overhead. A species from South Europe and another from Japan are cultivated.
Potting: Spindle trees can be grown in almost any soil. They are tolerant of dry, shallow, alkaline soil and dry, shady areas. However, even though they are tolerant of all this, the deciduous species put on the best autumn display in sun. These plants also grow well near paths and other busy areas where the soil is compacted. Pruning consists of simply cutting away any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Any shoots on a variegated plant that have reverted to green should be removed immediately to prevent the entire plant from turning plain green. Euonymus are susceptible to a variety of pests such as spider mites and thrips, but particularly scale. There are several different types of scale that attack Euonymus, but the worst is Euonymus scale. This pest can severely stunt the growth of a plant and even kill it. The whitish male clusters are found on the leaves and new shoots, while the brownish female clusters are found on more mature wood. Scales can be fatal to varieties of E. fortunei, E. europaeus and E. hamiltonianus.
Varieties: E. alatus (Winged Euonymus; Burning Bush) & var. compactus; E. europaeus (European Spindletree) & var. albus, Red Cascade; E. fortunei (Winter Creeper) & var. Canadale Gold, Coloratus, Dart's Blanket, Emerald Gaiety, Emerald 'n' Gold, Gold Tip, Harlequin, Kewensis, Silver Pillar, Silver Queen, Sunspot, Variegatus; E. grandiflorus; E. hamiltonianus & var. Coral Charm, Coral Chief, sieboldianus; E. japonicus (Japanese Euonymus) & var. Duc d'Anjou, Latifolius Albomarginatus, Marieke, Microphyllus Aureus, Microphyllus Variegatus, Ovatus Aureus; E. latifolius (Broadleaf Euonymus); E. nanus & var. turkestanicus; E. oxyphyllus; E. phellomanus; E. planipes; E. americanus (Strawberry Bush); E. atropurpureus (Wahoo).
An easily grown plant, it thrives in almost any soil, including chalk, and is particularly suited to dry shaded areas. Prefers a well-drained loamy soil. If cultivated for its latex it is best grown in a dry open position. A very cold-hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -25°c. A very ornamental plant, there are many named varieties. This species is often damaged by caterpillars during the flowering season. It is a favoured home for blackfly, so should not be grown near broad beans.
Seed: best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed requires 8 - 12 weeks warm followed by 8 - 16 weeks cold stratification and can then be sown in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. One report says that the seed can be sown in an outdoors seedbed in early spring with good results. Grow the seedlings on for two years in the seedbed before planting them out into their permanent positions. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8cm long taken at a node or with a heel, July/August in a frame. Very easy. Cuttings of mature wood, November in a frame. Layering in July/August. Takes 14 months.
Use of Cultivars: There are some named forms for this species, but these have been developed for their ornamental value and not for their other uses. Unless you particularly require the special characteristics of any of these cultivars, we would generally recommend that you grow the natural species for its useful properties. We have, therefore, not listed the cultivars in this database.
Spiritual & Psychic Qualities
As was described in the introductory paragraphs, ‘Euonymus is associated with Euonyme, mother of the Furies, due to the plant's irritating properties.’
Oir - Spindle
Letter- TH, OI
Meaning- Finish obligations and tasks or your life cannot move forward.
Oir / Spindle - The hard wood of the Spindle was used in the making of pegs, bobbins and spindles. It is a small and delicate tree with smooth grey bark and tiny white flowers. Deeply lobed brought crimson fruits appear in Autumn. Spindle indicates honour of tribe, community and the sweetness and delight of a sudden revelation.
• Physical: Fulfil your obligations, not for reward but because you must, honour demands it and the greatest happiness will be yours.
• Mental: Sudden realization gives you the right and obligation to question authority.
• Spiritual: Develop your consciousness of the right relationship with others in the community and tribe.
Euonymus alatus – A Weed in Sheep’s Clothing - Weed Alert!
Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Siebold (burning bush, winged euonymus, winged wahoo, winged spindle-tree, Japanese spindle-tree)
Summary: known invaders sighted in new areas
Euonymus alatus was introduced into the USA from northeastern Asia around 1860 for use as an ornamental shrub. The bright red fall foliage of E. alatus makes this shrub a popular ornamental planting, and it is commonly planted along interstate highways, as hedges, and in foundation plantings. While it behaves well in urban areas, E. alatus planted near woodlands, mature second-growth forests, and pastures can be problematic. It has been observed escaping from cultivation in the northeast and midwest, notably in Connecticut, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. E. alatus is a threat to woodland areas, fields, and coastal scrubland because it outcompetes native species.
Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Siebold (Celastraceae--the staff-tree family) is a deciduous shrub. E. alatus is slow growing but can reach 4.6-6.1 meters in height (and width). The bark is gray-brown and the stems have prominent, corky wings running along both sides. In some cultivars, these wings can be greatly reduced to mere ridges. The leaf-buds are brownish-green, and strongly divergent. The leaves are opposite, elliptic, and measure 2.5-7.6 cm long and 1.3-3.2 cm wide with fine, sharp serrations on the margin. In autumn the dark green leaves turn a brilliant purplish red to scarlet color before dropping to the ground. In Pennsylvania the flowers bloom in late April to late June. The flowers are small, yellowish green in color and inconspicuous. The smooth, purplish fruit are 1.3 cm long and are present in September through October. Each fruit contains approximately four red to orange seeds.
Scientific and Common Names
The common name, ‘winged euonymus’, is derived from the corky wings along the stem. The name ‘burning bush’ is from the fall color of the leaves. Euonymus, roughly translated, comes from the Greek meaning ‘good name’ or ‘of good repute.’ The species name, alatus, is in reference to the prominent corky wings on the stems of the shrub. Synonyms for E. alatus include ‘Celastrus alata Thunb’, ‘Celastrus striata Thunb’., and Euonymus striata (Thunb.) Loes.’
This new invader is becoming increasingly common in Connecticut, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. It has been observed making dense thickets in Pennsylvania. These thickets can shade out native herbs and crowd out native shrubs. Euonymus alatus also has the following characteristics:
1)E. alatus is adaptable to various environmental conditions; it grows well in different soil types and pH levels, has no serious pest problems in North America, and most importantly of all is tolerant of full shade.
2)Spectacular fall foliage makes it a popular landscape ornamental. Wide usage of this plant increases the probability that more will escape from cultivation.
Euonymus alatus is native to northeastern Asia to central China.
Range As An Invader
Euonymus alatus is found in the USA from New England to northern Florida and the Gulf Coast. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4. Populations have been found in mature white oak upland forest and open, second growth lowland forest. Other populations have been found dominating pastures, the understory of shady hillsides, small ravines in valley floor forests, and glacial drift hill prairies.
Reproduction and Methods of Dispersal
Seed production is prodigious. Birds relish eating the fruit, and seeds passing through their digestive tract are viable. Seeds dispersed this way germinate easily and spread the infestation to other areas.
Control of this plant is difficult because it produces a tremendous amount of seed. Suggested control methods include:
1)Seedlings up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall can be easily hand-pulled, especially when the soil is moist. Larger plants and their root systems can be dug out with a spading fork or pulled with a weed wrench.
2) Larger shrub can be cut. The stump must be ground out or the re-growth clipped. The cut stump can also be painted with glyphosate immediately after cutting, following the label directions. Where populations are so large that cutting is impractical, herbicide (glyphosate) may be applied as a foliar spray. This is most effective during the early summer months.
3) An extremely labor intensive method to prevent spread is to trim off all the flowers.
4) Plant native or non-invasive alternatives such as spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), native red chokeberry (especially the cultivar Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima') or the non-invasive exotic Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii). Ask your local native plant society for further alternatives.
Unsuccessful control measures include mowing small plants and then spraying one month later with triclopyr salt (3 lb ae/gallon), triclopyr ester (4 lb ae/gallon), or triclopyr ester (1 lb ae/gallon) plus 2,4-D (2 lb ae/gallon) applied at 1% to runoff.