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The spindle tree is one of the most common shrubs in our latitudes. In domestic gardens, the attractive large shrub is very popular as an excellent bee pasture. Incidentally, the German name of the plant is derived from the bright pink fruits, which are reminiscent of a bishop's cap, a biretta. The shrub is wind resistant and very frost hardy. It tolerates great drought, but also withstands flooding.


About 175 species of the spindle tree are known worldwide. All have their home in the northern hemisphere. The European euonymus grows in Europe. It particularly prefers forest edges, bushes and hedges. As a popular ornamental shrub, the spindle tree is unfortunately often planted in playgrounds. And the plant is poisonous. So poisonous that it is counted among the "dangerous four" along with laburnum, holly and daphne.

Did you actually know that:

… the scientific generic name of the spindle tree, "Euonymus", means something like "of good reputation"?

Even in ancient times, the reputation of the plant was anything but good. Even the ancient Greeks knew about the toxicity of the shrub. The Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus said that the flowers of the euonymus "smelled of murder". Therefore, according to the “Etymological Dictionary of Botanical Plant Names”, Euonymus is a taboo name. The harmless designation was intended to trick the evil demons suspected of being behind the poison's effects.


These parts of the plant are poisonous

All parts of the euonymus are considered toxic. This includes stems, leaves and flowers. However, the highest concentration of toxins is found in the fruits and seeds. The spores are stuck in the initially rather inconspicuous flowers. These flowers turn into fleshy red capsules in fall, which open and reveal the orange seed. Fruits and seeds then look attractive and are therefore particularly attractive to children and pets.



They are usually used by plants to ward off predators. The glycosides in the euonymus are steroid glycosides, they act directly on the heart muscle as cardioactive glycosides. Ingested in particularly high concentrations, they paralyze the heart muscle.


These are considered to be herbal poisons with the strongest effect. Alkaloids act on different centers in the nervous system. In a weaker form, alkaloid-containing plant extracts have an intoxicating effect and are therefore among the oldest narcotics known to mankind.


This substance belongs to the group of akaloids and, in larger doses, also affects the central nervous system. Just like theobromine, which is very similar to caffeine in terms of its effect and chemical structure.

toxin intake

This is how the poison gets into the body

Large amounts of toxins contained in the euonymus are dangerous to health and life. Therefore, merely touching the plant is harmless for an adult. Even if a child puts their fingers in their mouth after touching a euonymus, it is not dangerous. If the plant or just parts of it are eaten, this can lead to moderate to severe symptoms of poisoning from a certain amount.

Notice: Note especially that the glycoids in the seeds are sugar compounds. That means they have a sweet taste of their own. Children notice this quickly when they touch the attractively colored fruits and seeds and put their fingers in their mouths. Therefore, make sure that children do not pick the fruit or play with it.


critical dose

As a rule, adults can tolerate up to three seeds of the plant without feeling any signs of intoxication. At a higher dosage, the typical symptoms occur. A lethal amount is considered to be between 30 and 40 fruits and seeds in an adult. As little as 10 to 15 fruits or seeds can cause serious problems in children. From 20 pieces, the poisoning can be fatal.

toxic effect

Occurring Symptoms

The effect only becomes toxic twelve to about 18 hours after consumption of the plant. It strengthens quickly. Even with only mild to moderate poisoning, the body temperature initially rises, shortness of breath and circulatory problems occur, which quickly lead to tachycardia. At the same time nausea sets in. There is abdominal pain, repeated vomiting, constipation and diarrhea in alternation. In high concentrations, the poison attacks the kidneys and liver, and damage to these organs is a typical long-term consequence. Paralysis of the heart muscle and especially symptoms of paralysis in the central nervous system are fatal.

First aid

If only a few berries have been eaten, it is sufficient to reduce the concentration of toxins in the body by giving plenty of liquid. Signs of mild poisoning are nausea, dizziness and vomiting.

First aid for poisoning:

  • place unconscious patients who are still amen in the recovery position
  • stops breathing, start CPR

Do not give charcoal supplements without consulting your doctor. If an endoscopic examination is indicated after the poisoning, this may make the examination more difficult. Do not encourage patients to vomit. This is especially dangerous for children.

Dangers of vomiting:

  • inhaling vomit
  • Dehydration of the body, especially small children, due to high fluid loss

If stronger symptoms of poisoning occur, a doctor must be informed urgently or a hospital must be visited. Severe poisoning manifests itself in respiratory disorders and unconsciousness and can quickly become life-threatening. In the case of heart and circulatory disorders, life-saving emergency measures such as artificial respiration and cardiac massage must be initiated at the same time.

Risks to Pets

Risks for cats and dogs

That in the euonymus is extremely dangerous for cats and dogs. Both companions of humans are not only attracted to the euonymus by the color of the fruit and seeds. The somewhat sweet taste is also particularly appealing. It is created by the glycoids it contains. Theobromine poses a great danger. Theobromine is a purine alkaloid with the effect of highly concentrated caffeine. It has a much stronger effect on the organism and especially on the nervous system of the small four-legged friends than on people for whom theobromine has a more stimulating effect. For cats, theobromine poisoning can quickly become fatal.

Did you know that chocolate poisoning in cats is also theobromine poisoning? Dark chocolate in particular contains high doses of this substance. By the way, even large grazing animals can die after eating large amounts of euonymus.


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