WILDFLOWER WEDNESDAY – 11/11 – In our nature postings we usually stay with native wildlife or wildflowers. This time we will be featuring an introduced species. Wait a minute, doesn’t that make it an invasive species? The answer is, not necessarily. There are numerous introduced species that don’t adversely affect the environment. Those that are aggressive and crowd out native species are usually classed as invasive. Think of an introduced species as a naturalized citizen, a person born in another country, and becomes a citizen of our country. Many of the more well-known introduced species in our parks include Norway and Colorado Blue Spruce trees.
This time, we will feature a woody plant usually thought of as a tree, though it grows more as a woody shrub. This is the Spindle-tree (Euonymus spp.) They can grow about 20 feet tall, and a similar size in width. They tend to grow in a round ball-like shape. They flower in the fall as the leaves are dropping, and add a splash of color to late fall. Though there is a native American Spindle-tree (E. americanus), it grows mostly as a wild plant. Of more historic interest is the European Spindle-tree (Euonymus europaeus).
Throughout most of the year, they grow in the understory, blending in with their environment. But in the fall, the flower and fruit matures into a brilliant crimson red foliage. The orange-colored berry forms inside a sheath, which splits into four lobes, giving the plant its nickname “hearts-a-bustin’.” It is sometimes also called a “burning bush,” as its bright crimson color evokes images of the “burning bush” from the Bible.
Today, spindle-trees are plants as ornamentals, but in the past, they were useful for another use, and a clue is in their name. The wood of the European variety is very hard, and can be sharpened to a knife-like point. This led to its use as a spindle for spinning wool. It was also useful for making wood butcher skewers. Additionally, artist like charcoal sticks made from its wood as it is more dense and stronger than other charcoals. Its yellow wood is used for making musical instruments and colored inlays. And finally, its scientific name, Euonymus, comes from two Greek words meaning, “good luck!”