Found in its native Europe, Euonymus europaeus ‘Atrorubens’, or spindle tree, is commonly seen as an understory shrub or small tree growing along deciduous woodland edges. Quite shade tolerant, it loves calcareous, well-drained base-rich soils and can grow up to 20’ tall. It is considered cold and drought tolerant. While labeled as invasive in some areas of the Northeast, it seems to behave itself here in the Pacific Northwest; the specimens in our collection have been here since the late 1940s and maintain their size at about 10’ x 6’. The easiest specimens to locate in the Washington Park Arboretum are in the Pinetum, tucked in between the cedars and the Coulter pines. You can’t miss them this time of year.
Traditionally, this plant’s stems were used to make spindles to twine wool and flax into yarn. It contains many medicinal properties in its roots and bark which were used by both Europeans and the Iroquois in Northeast America and Canada, where it spread widely after introduction to the new continent. While the fruits are eaten by a variety of animals in the plant’s native habitats, they are poisonous to humans.
The spindle tree is currently used as an ornamental garden feature, and the cultivar ‘Red Cascade’ has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. While its late spring flowers (small yellow cymes) are considered inconspicuous, its amazing orange fruits and pink sepals are brilliant in the fall and will persist into deep winter on the shrub. The ‘Atrorubens’ cultivar is prized for its bright red fall foliage, similar to its cousin the “burning bush” euonymus.
Common Name: Spindle Tree
Family Common Name: Bittersweet Family
Washington Park Arboretum
- Pinetum (555-42*B & D in 38-5W)
- Pacific Connections Garden (555-42*A in 6-1E)
Origin: Northern Europe and UK
Height and Spread: to 20’ tall x 10’ wide
Bloom Time: late spring