Monday, September 3, 2012

Tuesday's Trees- Aralia Spinosa

Aralia spinosa, also called Devil's Walking Stick, is a native to the Eastern United States.  Some may call this a shrub, but I decided since it is in the tree book I have listed as a tree, I will include it in my Tuesday's Trees.
 Walking through the woods this is not the tree you want to brush against, grab hold of, or use as your walking stick.  The thorns along the bark keep animals from rubbing against them.  Some trunks are covered more densely than others, but this is a key characteristic of the Devil's Walking Stick.  It has other names, one of which is Hercules' Club.  Can you imagine that as a weapon?


The Aralia spinosa can form a bit of a thicket or colony spreading by its roots.  If you were walking through the woods it would not be good to get into the middle of this colony.  
I have many of these trees in the lot next to me.  A couple winters ago we worked on getting some of the front area cleared out.  Many of the vines; smilax, muscadine grape, honeysuckle, and more honeysuckle were removed.  I also pulled some of the Aralia spinosa.  My rational was that there are plenty in the lots on either side of us.
A mature tree can be up to 20- 30 feet tall.   The more mature trees have shallow furrowed bark with the spines barely showing.  From the photos I would estimate a mature tree's diameter to be about 6- 8 inches.  Life span is about 25- 30 years.
The tree can tolerate some shade, but according to one government site where control of this tree is important, a dense canopy is one way to weaken the growth.  Fire is another method of control.  Cutting the stems will only invigorate new growth from the roots.    They can be found in upland woods, in moist soils where lands have been cleared.

The leaves are compound, bi-pinnate and sometimes tri-pinnate.  Some of the larger leaves have over 100 leaflets and can measure up to four feet in length.  This photo shows the wide branching of the leaves, all at the top of the stem.  Each year's growth comes from the top of the stem.  This one is about 6 feet tall and the stem is about an inch in diameter.  It is not mature enough to bloom.

The ones in the lower lot are quite mature.  As they are a thicket, I have not gone down into the base to see how tall they are.  The summer show of blooms was amazing.  This is a nectar plant for many butterflies and bees and other insects.  

There was a lot of insect activity on these blooms --  lovely aren't they?

These blooms become gorgeous berries in the fall.  These berries are food for birds.  The berries are just starting to form.  Some flowers are still visible.

Here is the beautiful berry, I love this color.   All those blooms are starting to ripen.

Here is a close-up of said berries.   The native Americans used many parts of this plant for medicinal treatments.  The roots were used as a poultice  for boils and swollen veins, internally as an emetic (to vomit), and as drops for sore eyes.  Young roots are poisonous.   There were all sorts of remedies for toothache, venereal disease, rheumatism, and other ailments.  The U Mich site has a list. 

The leaves in the fall are mainly yellow, though a couple websites said they can be red to orange to yellow.  I will get better photos in the fall and update this page.  Please come back.

References include Duke, UCONN, VA Tech, Wildflower ORG, Forestry Service, and  NC State.

©Copyright 2012 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

34 comments:

  1. Janet,
    Great post, learned a lot I did not know about these trees. Wish we had more of them around our parts. The photos were stunning especially the berry photos.

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    1. Randy, Glad you learned a little, I do every time I write one of these posts.

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  2. They are really a beautiful tree. There is a clump of them behind my home near a pond. I used to think it was a native smoketree when it bloomed each year so stunning were the lovely white blooms. I have since learned otherwise but still love this tree. I don't touch it though!

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    1. Tina, I can see how you would think it was a smoke tree, the plume of flowers or berries is similar. And no, don't touch!!!

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  3. That is one scary looking branch with all those spines! It certainly does have pretty flowers and berries. I have an Aralia growing in my garden, but it is a West Coast native, a perennial that dies to the ground called Aralia californica.

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    1. Alsion, it is a scary stem to see as your hand reaches out to pull you uphill through the woods!!! There are many native (I think the number was 30) Aralia in the US.

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  4. I am not familiar with this tree - or shrub. The trunks certainly look wickedly devilish - but beautiful flowers and berries.

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    1. Commonweeder, this one hides in the woods. Once your know it, you see it in many places.

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  5. If it weren't for those thorns, I'd be interested in planting one of those, not that I have the room. I love the flowers and berries, which remind me of elderberry.

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    1. Jason, it spreads pretty aggresively, so I would think twice unless you have a lot of room. This is more abundantly flowered than elderberry.

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  6. We have something in our boggy area that also goes by the name 'Devil's Walking Stick', but it is more of an herbaceous perennial. Just as lethal, however. This was so informative...it inspires me to visit our version more frequently to assess its habits.

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    1. Ricki, would be interested to see your Devil's Walking Stick photos...could be related.

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  7. Love the blooms and the berries...so charming!

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    1. Scott, they are a magnet for the butterflies and other pollinators.

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  8. I have only recently begun to appreciate the ornamental qualities of this plant, especially growing somewhere other than my garden. Before I was scared by the thorns.

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    1. Les, this is in the Learning Garden and they have been battling it for a number of years. This puppy spreads.

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  9. Great info! I really only notice them in the winter. I will have to look closer because I don't think I have ever seen them bloom. It is such an interesting tree!

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    1. Karin, thanks!! I need to get a winter photo as well as the fall color of the foliage. The naked stems rising out of the ground in the winter are very distinctive.

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  10. Thanks for such an informative post, Janet! I've heard of these, but didn't realize they were actually trees. Those blooms and berries are lovely!

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    1. Rose, thanks. I didn't think of them as trees either, but after thinking about it....as tall as they grow, of course they are trees.

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  11. What a gorgeous tree Janet ~ thorns & all. It seems like the whole package (blooms & berries) which I find very appealing. Wouldn't want to run into it tho!
    p.s. The liatris in your previous post is so pretty. Love to find that around here! And you most certainly have a lovely location!!! I would never tire of your view.

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    1. Kathleen, thanks!! No you don't want to run into them....ouch.
      thanks, our view changes as the seasons change...even the color of the water. Wonderful to gaze upon.

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  12. I have seen this tree, even in my garden, as a small plant, but have never seen the flowers and berries---quite beautiful. Thanks for your comments on my blog. If you have time please leave your website in addition to your email so I can visit. I have trouble getting there using my iPad if the site link isn't with the comment.

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    1. Carolyn, I would think of removing it from your garden (unless yours is a large garden) as this really colonizes in an aggressive manner.

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  13. Great overview of a very neat tree. Those spines would scare me off quickly, I always worry about thorns like that going into a hand or a foot.

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    1. Marguerite, I almost grabbed one while walking our lot before we built...ouch.

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  14. Really a menacing tree for the deer I bet. It is such a looker in all seasons and I will be back for your fall posting on it. The blooms and berries are quite pretty and a great food source for wildlife. An all round nice native.

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    1. Donna, the deer will eat the leaves on trees that are short enough, but no antler rubbing. I will be sure to post a fall photo.

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  15. Beautiful flower and fruit, but goodness, that is one effective self defence mechanism!!

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    1. Janet, yes, it is beautiful-- in the woods! Those thorns are nasty.

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  16. We planted a cluster of them a couple of years ago, but then thought better of it as they grew rapidly! Now we're admiring them along the greenway. The flowers and fruits are amazing.

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    1. Lisa, Yes, I think admiring them from a distance is better.

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  17. Just catching up with posts and am I glad I saw this post...i love this tree...what a cool trunk with those thorns and I love the flowers and fruit...I will look for this for the garden as it is a native here...

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    1. Donna, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I know how easy it is to get behind in reading postings. I am sure you have some in your woods. For me it was the berries that really caught my eye.

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