Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) Identification Guide

Spindle / Summer / Autumn / Toxic

Spindle is a fairly common shrub or small tree, one of the indictors of an ancient woodland but consumption can lead to death.

Common Names

Spindle, European spindle, Common spindle

Botanical Name

Euonymus europaeus

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Celastrales

Family – Celastraceae

Physical Characteristics for Spindle


The leaves are deep green to red depending on the time of year, they are lanceolate, opposite and have finely serrated edges. Up to 8cm long.

R. A. Nonenmacher, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


The hermaphrodite flowers are inconspicuous and small. Yellow to green in colour, have four petals and grow in clusters called cymes. They normally appear in May and June.

AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


The fruits are reddish to purple in colour and have 4 lobes, when ripe they split to reveal bright orange seeds. The fruits are around 1.5 cm in diameter.

Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


It is a native species and does grow in the wild but most often it’s found planted as an ornamental in gardens and parks. In the wild it’s an indicator of ancient woodlands. They prefer nutrient rich, chalky soils.

Known Hazards

The fruit is poisonous and contains the alkaloids theobromine and caffeine, as well as an extremely bitter terpene. Poisonings are more common in young children, who are attracted to the berries. Ingestion can result in liver and kidney damage and it extreme cases even death!

Could be Confused with…

The fruits are quite unique so it would be hard to confuse them with anything else. Before it fruits the plant does look similar to Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) but this develops blackish fruits and should also be avoided.

Notes on Herbal Uses

In small doses it has been used to stimulate appetite but larger doses it can irritate your intestine. The bark has been used to treat certain liver disorders. The seeds are strongly emetic and purgative.

The fresh leaves, and the dried fruit and seeds, are used externally to treat scabies, lice, and other skin parasites.

Extra notes from the Foragers

The botanical name, Euonymus, is from the Greek ‘eu’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘onoma’ which means ‘name’. This is said to have meant ‘lucky’. Europaeus is Latin for Europe.

It was commonly used in the past to make spindles for the wool and cotton industry hence its common name.

Charcoal made from Spindle is highly prized by artists due to its strength and density.



more from the woodland trust

more on the medicinal properties



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