And after Autumn past--if left to pass
His Autumn into seeming-leafless days--
Draw toward the long frost and longest night,
Wearing his wisdom lightly, like the fruit
Which in our winter woodland looks a flower' - from 'A Dedication' by Lord Tennyson
The spindle trees are a joy to behold in the woods near my house during late autumn. The colours of the changing leaves are lovely, but these pale into insignificance compared to the colours of the fruits - these display such fire as is rarely found in nature. The fruiting bodies consist of bright orange seeds which hang partially exposed from lobed arils of the most brilliant cyclamen pink - sounds vulgar; looks stunning! (see http://www.manntaylor.com/plantweek31.html)
The spindle tree is a shrub native to northern Europe. It grows from 12 to 30 feet tall, is found in woods and hedgerows, and prefers partial shade to full sun. The leaves are small, finely toothed and grow in opposite pairs; the flowers appear in May and are small, white and insignificant; the fruits are only a few millimetres across but extremely brightly coloured - a sure indicator of their poisonous nature!
The wood from the tree is light yellow and extremely hard and smooth - it was used to make spindles employed in spinning, hence its most common folk name. The name Prickwood comes from its use in the making of toothpicks, and the French name Bonnet-de-prêtre is derived from the seeds' resemblance to a priest's beretta. The wood also makes excellent artist's charcoal.
The bark, leaves and seed arils of the spindle tree contain small amounts of
antimicrobial proteins, including different lectins which play an important role in the plant's defense against pests and pathogens. These are being isolated and studied for their possible therapeutic uses.
A tincture made from the bark of the spindle tree can, in small doses, provide a tonic to stimulate the appetite; larger doses irritate the digestive tract and are purgative, laxative and diuretic. The berries have similar properties but are much more potent, just a few berries can be fatal if eaten by children or animals.
According to ancient Celtic and Druid lore, the spindle tree embodied creative inspiration, purification, initiation and blessings.