Autumn treasure 15: Spindle

Spindle 30/11/20 Until I planted a new mixed hedge along my garden boundary, there was only one spindle tree – strictly speaking, shrub – in my garden. This is the spindle my dad used to teach me its name: easiest in autumn, when its fruits make it impossible to confuse with anything else. They have a bright pink outer casing which opens to reveal orange seeds. This is the only context, I think, in which orange and pink don’t clash, but enhance each other to create a crazy, joyous, unique autumn sight.

There are a few weeks in autumn when it is harder to spot the fruits because the spindle’s leaf colour competes; and, knowing it is in possession of these fruits, it is hard to appreciate the leaf display as much as if they belonged to a different plant. Once the leaves are gone, however, the fruits once again hog the limelight.

I long wondered about the origin of its name. Finally looking it up a couple of years ago, I found the wood was used to make spindles, as well as knitting needles, skewers and toothpicks. It is still used to make artists’ charcoal. I was perhaps most surprised to discover that it is an ancient woodland indicator1: I had always thought it mostly a hedgerow and ornamental plant. But this autumn I have noticed how many of them are in Bradfield Woods.

Perhaps, like the field scabious, part of my love for this plant comes from its name – the word ‘spindle’ sounds friendly, and I like saying it – part comes from the fact it always makes me think of my dad, and see his delight; and the remainder comes from its autumn beauty. I can almost feel my brain sparking when I look at it.

Now there is a small problem with the spindle in my garden: its neighbour, the magnolia, has grown so large it is crowding the spindle. There is no question of cutting back or removing the magnolia, just as there is no question of removing the spindle. So they will have to coexist for as long as the spindle can hold its own, which I hope will be for a long time to come. They won’t compete in beauty, at least, with their displays arriving in opposite seasons of the year.


1. www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/spindle/