Spindle is a deciduous native tree that can grow to 9m and can live for more than 100 years. The bark and twigs are distinctively deep green and stand out in a winter hedgerow against the duller colours of other species.

Spindle is hermaphrodite, meaning each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. Flowers have four petals and grow in clusters in May and June, and are pollinated by insects. After pollination, flowers develop into distinctive, bright pink fruits (or bells) with bright orange seeds, which look a bit like popcorn.

Spindle can be found most commonly at the woodland edge, scrub and widely in hedgerows. It thrives in lime rich soils but is widespread on neutral soils too. It is an indicator of ancient-woodland – its presence signifying a special habitat. It is always a treat to find spindle with its colourful bark and fruits amongst the less impressive woody shrubs in our native hedgerows. 

The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of moths, including the magpie, spindle ermine and scorched, as well as the holly blue butterfly. The flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for insects such as the St Mark’s fly. Spindle wood is creamy-white, hard and dense. In the past it was used to make ‘spindles’ for spinning and holding wool (hence its name), as well as skewers, toothpicks, pegs and knitting needles. The fruits were baked and powdered, and used to treat head lice or mange in cattle. Both the leaves and fruit are toxic to humans – the berries having a laxative effect.

Today, spindle timber is used to make high-quality charcoal for artists. Cultivated forms of the tree are also grown in gardens for autumn colour.

 Some text and information sourced from The Woodland Trust

Illustration by Joanna Uglow