see it clearly
Spindle Tree
Leaf Shape Elliptical with finely serrated edges
Mature Height 10 to 15 feet
Best Habitat Moist, well-drained soil and full sun
Best Climate Temperate
Output Flowers and berry-like fruit
Uses Medicine, toothpicks, spindles and dye

Spindle Trees

Spindle trees are hard to miss during autumn. Their blazing red fall foliage and decorative berries are extremely attractive and make them a popular choice for landscapers. Another of the tree's attributes is its manageable height. Spindle trees rarely grow taller than 10 feet, and are planted mainly as garden shrubs grouped to create a border, hedge or privacy screen.

Appearance of the Tree

Spindle leaves
Spindle Leaves

Even the most inexperienced gardeners can personalize a Spindle tree. The specimen can be pruned to just about any shape or height desired.

This unique ability to take on different appearances, doesn't negate the fact that the tree has a number of noteworthy characteristics that don't deviate much from season to season:

  • Leaves: The elliptical leaves feature finely serrated edges. The leaves are dark green and glossy in the spring and summer, but turn fiery red or bright yellow in the fall.
  • Flowers: The Spindle's tiny flowers grow in clusters and future shades of green and yellow.
  • Fruit: The fruit of the Spindle tree is one of its most noteworthy traits. The pod-like fruit contains orange seeds; however, the exterior of the capsule is red, purple or pink in color. When ripe, the fruit's skin will split to expose the seeds. Often referred to as Spindle berries, the fruit is poisonous and should not be consumed.

The stunning landscape tree's canopy spreads to just about two feet. Its diminutive size makes the Spindle a top choice for adding ornamental value to homes, parks, commercial properties and along highways.


Spindle Berries
Spindle Seeds
Japanese Spindle

Spindle Tree Types

Burning Bush
Burning Bush Spindle

The Spindle tree is part of the genus Euonymus which features roughly 180 different species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees.

Among the most well-known Spindle trees are:

  • Burning Bush: Easily recognized by its dense, flat top, reddish-purple fruit, and bright red fall foliage, the Burning Bush is easy to grow thanks to its toleration of different soil types.
  • Golden Euonymus: The exquisite evergreen shrub features large, glossy, oval shaped green leaves which feature a bright golden yellow border. The Golden Euonymus is very popular with growers looking to create a natural border around their property.
  • Wintercreeper: The dense, woody evergreen is more shrub-like than tree-like. It features dark green leaves in the spring and summer which turn dark purple in fall and winter. Often placed in the "invasive species" category, the Wintercreeper's roots and branches can spread into a sprawling, tangled, bushy mat similar to English Ivy.

While some naturalists oppose growing invasive species, if you diligently maintain the Wintercreeper, you will be able to control its spread and enjoy its beauty with few problems.

The Many Looks of the Spindle Tree

Spindle Berries

Spindle Berries

Spindle Branch

Spindle Branch

Burning Bush

Burning Bush

Young Spindle

Young Spindle

Spindle Hedge

Spindle Hedge

Spindle in Summer

Spindle in Summer

Example Frame

Where the Spindle Grows

Golden Euonymus
Golden Euonymus

The Spindle tree has the ability to grow throughout the world, but is most prevalent in:

  • Russia
  • Korea
  • China
  • Japan
  • Europe
  • Spain
  • Lithuania
  • North America
  • Madagascar

The tree thrives in moist, well-drained soil and full sun, though it also has the ability to grow in chalky and salt-poor soils. While it can tolerate some shade, too much will diminish the intensity of its fall foliage.

Popular Uses

Spindle Toothpicks
Spindle Toothpicks

The Spindle tree may be small in stature, but its features yield numerous uses, including:

  • Wood: Spindle wood is very fine-grained, hard and has a tendency to split easily. It is mainly used to create spindles, knitting needles, toothpicks and skewers. The wood is also burned to create a high-quality charcoal used by professional artists.
  • Dye: Due to the vibrant nature of the Spindle's fruit and seeds, the tree is often used as a source of pink, yellow, and orange fabric dye.
  • Oil: The Spindle contains oil that is used in soap making.
  • Plastic: Roots from the Spindle contain a substance used to create a type of rubber that is employed as electrical insulation and plastic component.
  • Medicine: The bark of the tree is commonly used as a treatment for liver disorders and fever.

In some cultures, Spindle berries are baked, crushed into a fine powder and used to remove hair lice or placed in corners of home as an insecticide.

Interesting Facts

One of the most interesting facts about the Spindle tree is its name. Derived from the Greek word, "eu," which means "good" and "onama," which translates to "name," the invasive species can be far from good for plants that lay in its path. Ironically, "spindle" has also been said to mean "lucky" in some languages.

In Greek mythology, the tree is believed to hail from Euonyme, the mother of the Furies, which speaks to its poisonous nature.

Other interesting facts about the tree include:

  • Spindle flowers are pollinated by ordinary flies.
  • In some parts of Africa, the juice from Spindle berries was used as an arrow poison.
  • Some cultures used the yellow dye obtained by boiling Spindle seeds to color butter.
  • In the Middle Ages, some believed that if the Spindle flowered early, an outbreak of the plague was imminent.

Spindle Diseases

Spindle Diseases
Spindle Diseases

Among the most common diseases contracted by Spindle trees are:

  • Anthracnose: This fungal disease causes severe defoliation if left untreated. Symptoms include sunken patches on the tree's stems, fruit, leaves, or twigs. The patches are grayish brown in color and may form slimy pinkish-tan spore masses in some cases.
  • Leaf Spot: This fungus presents as brown or black spots with yellow edges. In some cases, ragged or circular patches may form as well. If left untreated, the disease can cause premature leaf drop.
  • Powdery Mildew: This disease typically forms on trees that do not have adequate air circulation or sun exposure. The powdery white fungus grows on the top portion of the leaves or fruit. In severe cases the leaves will often turn yellow or brown, shrivel, and drop off.

In addition to these diseases, the Spindle is also susceptible to a number of pests, including mites, leaf miners and mealybugs.

Spindle Care

Spindle Hedge
Spindle Hedge

Spindles are not trees you want to plant and allow to grow exclusively on their own. Due to their invasive tendencies, some Spindles require careful and regular maintenance.

Following these tips will help you care for your tree without it taking over your entire yard:

  • Avoid planting a Spindle in the shade of a building or other taller specimens. The tree needs full sun to propagate its stunning fall colors.
  • Water the Spindle on a regular basis if it is planted in a dryer soil. The tree needs moist, fertile soil to grow, though it does not tolerate excessively wet dirt.
  • Shelter the Spindle from cold, drying winds which rob it of valuable moisture.
  • Pruning is a must if you want to keep the Spindle contained to its growing space and maintain its original shape.

Finally, do not plant a Spindle tree near children's play areas. Young kids may be enticed by the tree's brightly-colored poisonous berries. If consumed in large quantities, the fruit can cause liver and kidney damage, or even death.