Everything is Connected
it has been on my mind for some time now, to try to draw attention to the extraordinary benefits to wildlife of creating a whole ecosystem as opposed to merely planting trees. In the fullness of time, we intend to create a resource that lays out the specific benefits of every species that we have planted at Three Hagges Wood. I do know that all the plants we have chosen will be good for something: as a nectar source; a larval food source, a berry bearing food source, a place to rear young or simply a hotel.
Of course, the logical way to do this is in ABC order, but every time I start, I get side-tracked into a proliferation of fascinating alleyways. That shouldn’t be surprising, because the deeper I look into it, the clearer it becomes that everything is connected. As Peter Liversidge suggests in the installation above at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, photo taken by my daughter Freya.
Take, for example, the European spindle, Euonymus europaeus. When we were planting the 300 or so specimens in December, we ensured that they were planted in odd-numbered groups, because I know from experience you get a much better pollination that way, hence so many more of the glorious fruits. It flowers in late spring, but not so as you would notice; the tiny yellow green flowers are insect pollinated. The fruits, which ripen in late summer and autumn, are in the form of vivid cerise pink capsule that splits to reveal a hoard of bright orange seeds. I am not sure who finds them appetising.
The European spindle is a larval food source for the holly blue butterfly, perfectly appropriate for the Hollicarrs site, and we know it has been recorded on Skipwith Common, so it’s a fair expectation that one day it will occur here too.
The Latin or scientific name for Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, was conferred upon it by that great botanist, ecologist, zoologist and father of taxonomy, Linnaeus in 1735 in the first edition of his Systema Naturae.
There is one thing you can always be sure of with Linnaean names, they were nearly always full of clues – argiolus is a Latin colour term for spring azure, a perfect description for the upper wing colour of this gorgeous species. Linnaeus also often gave a specific name to creatures that somehow indicated an association; for example, the Brimstone butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni, was so named after its larval food plant, Rhamnus catharticus (we have planted lots of those too). So I was a bit stumped as to why the holly blue was called Celastrina, until Eureka! The spindle family is called Celastraceae.
So on a wave of excitement, I did further research, and discovered that the Holly Blue will also use holly, Ilex aquifolium, (well, duh!), ivy, dogwood and bramble as larval food plants. The photo of the egg seen here is on Lythrum salicaria, the herbaceous purple rocket. So even if we won’t permit invasion by bramble, there will still be plenty of choice.
My next thought was to wonder what spindle might have been used for by humans, because I am aware its fruits are toxic, and jelly-bean bright, so any dealing with herbal uses needs to fenced about with stern warnings to curious young visitors. It seems to have used for the control of various infestations; scabies, lice infestation (head, body or pubic), ticks and other skin parasites, which must have been handy in the days before insecticidal shampoos and nit combs. Most of the other uses in Mrs Grieves Modern Herbal fall into the don’t-try-this-at-home category; severely emetic, purgative and laxative. Though she does mention the hardness of the wood, which apparently is suitable for spindles (!) knitting needles, toothpicks and skewers (prickwood and skewerwood being old English common names), as well as ox goads for which we have little use these days.
The hardness of the wood is probably critical to the final use I came across; Ros mentioned that her godmother said it made fine charcoal for drawing. Tis true. The carbonising of the slender branches creates a drawing charcoal that is prized for its smoothness and ease of erasure. It was favoured by Van Gogh. Such charcoal sticks are called bâtonnets de fusain in French, or fusain sticks in English. Guess the French common name for spindle. C’est fusain!