When it comes to design and designers, Cork has plenty to offer. In Fota itself, we have a Richard Morrison designed house. The neo-Gothic Cathedral in nearby Cobh was designed by Pugin and Ashlin. More modern, award-winning designs like the UCC Glucksman Gallery came from O’Donnell + Tuomey. But everyday in Fota House and Gardens, in the Frameyard and the Orchard, we see that Nature is the best designer of all.

On any given day a small but perfectly formed flower or leaf can catch one’s attention and instill a sense of wonder at the ingenuity and symmetry of nature. It’s Autumn and at this time of year most plants and trees are producing berries, fruits and seeds. They come in all shapes and sizes from apples to horse chesnuts to the compact seeds of a Dierama pendulum.

In the first of this series of blogs, we look at the small, colourful but arresting Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’. This is a deciduous plant which grows to around 6m.


Euonymus europaeuson the grounds of Fota House

Early in the year it produces inconspicuous pale green (hermaphrodite) flowers. But in Autumn it creates a shocking pink berry or fruit capsule.


Euonymus europaeus on the grounds of Fota House

Nature cleverly puts seeds inside a fleshy skin, usually sweet. These encased seeds are referred to as angiosperms.  Plants are limited in terms of finding new places for favourable growth conditions. As a result they have evolved different ways of dispersing their seeds. This can be by wind, water and animals.  The fruit capsule of the Euonymus europaeus opens to reveal a bright orange seed casing, designed to attract the attention of birds for dispersal.

Euonymus, which is a member of the Celastraceae family, is mostly native to East Asia, with 50 species endemic to China. The European spindle can be found on the edges of forests, in hedging and in ornamental gardens. It is popular in gardens for its dramatic Autumn colours though many people don’t like it as it attracts aphids.


Euonymus latifolius in the Frameyard glasshouse

Inside a glasshouse in the Frameyard is another species of this “Spindle Tree”,  Euonymus latifolius. This is a large leaf variety.

Euonymus wood was used in the past to make spindles for spinning wool. (Hence Spindlethe common name). Nowadays it is used (rather ignominiously) for making toothpicks, as its pale dense wood is suitable for objects requiring sharp points. A more creditable use for the wood is in the production of artists’ charcoal.



All photographs copyright Fota Frameyard Blog.

Illustration of spindle: