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Spike shrubs become two to five meters high depending on the species and form more or less pronounced crowns with often dense branching in old age. The garden forms of creeping or climbing spindle (Euonymus fortunei) can reach similar heights with suitable climbing aid, but usually remain smaller. A typical distinguishing feature of all spindle shrubs are the four-edged branches: The bark of most species is occupied by four more or less pronounced cork strips. The largest "wing" possesses the winged Pfaffenhütchen (Euonymus alatus), also called cork spindle. The leaves of the plants are usually opposite, relatively small and roundish to oblong-oval. All summer-green species show in autumn an intense orange to red leaf coloration with strong luminosity. Even the evergreen climbing spindles turn their foliage slightly pink to reddish in autumn and winter.
Cork spindle (Euonymus alatus) with autumn coloration
The greenish yellow flowers of the shrubs appear in May and are quite small and unimpressive. The fruit decoration, however, is very noticeable in the higher-growing species and reminiscent in shape and color of a biretta, the headgear of the Catholic Cardinals - hence the somewhat disrespectful German name Pfaffenhütchen. The mostly fourfold capsules each contain an orange fruiting body (Arillus), which surrounds the white or black seed. The fruits are extremely toxic to humans, but are especially appreciated by the robin as food.
The higher spindle bushes are ideal for individual stand with their great autumn color and their often picturesque crown shape. Because of their relatively high shade tolerance, they can also be planted under the sparse crowns of larger trees, although the fruit decoration and the autumn coloration are less pronounced there. The low, spreading cork spindle comes with her early onset, pink foliage color very well in autumnal perennial flowerbeds to advantage. Great garden pictures result in combinations with yellowish-colored ornamental grasses such as the whistling grass (Molinia), the blue flowers of the autumn ironcreep (Aconitum) or reminiscent larkspur (Delphinium). You can also cultivate the cork spindle in large planters or plant in not too dry rock gardens. The European Pfaffenhütchen is suitable among other things for natural gardens and free-growing bird protection hedges, but also for planting in the wild.
The varieties of the evergreen creeping spindle are among the most robust and shade-tolerant surface grasses in the entire woody range. They are therefore also used in parks and public green. You can also plant shady house walls with yellow-colored varieties such as 'Emerald'n Gold'. Some small-leaved varieties such as 'Minimus' are very popular as easy-care soil-covering grave planting. The large-leaved variety 'Vegetus' is also suitable for low hedges and borders.
Yellow -brown Creeping Spindle (Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald'n Gold')
If necessary, the evergreen varieties of the creeping spindle can be kept in shape with the hedge trimmer. They also tolerate tougher rejuvenation cuts down to the old wood. The other species are also cut tolerant, but are best used if you let them grow uncut.
The European Pfaffenhütchen can be well propagated by sowing. To do this, collect the ripe fruiting bodies and leave them in the water for a week, so that the pulp separates from the seeds. It is then immediately sown in boxes or directly in the field, whereby the germination takes place only in the coming spring. The sowing of the remaining wild species is more difficult and usually very tedious. For this reason, in many species it is preferred to cultivate in late winter on seedlings of the European chickweed. The varieties of the evergreen creeping spindle can all be easily increased by cuttings.
Diseases and pests
The European Pruning Cap is prone to powdery mildew. Spindle trees can also be attacked by various pests, such as felt gall mites, flied moths, spider moths, muleteer shields, and the spindle tree leaf mite, which causes a conspicuous damage pattern with arched leaf margins. The evergreen species are especially susceptible to the ruffed weevil and the spindle shrub toed louse. Really threatening damage caused however none of the mentioned pests.