Aralia spinosa L.
Mesic pine savannas.
Jun–Sep . Not seen in Shaken Creek Preserve by the senior author. Specimens seen in the vicinity: Sandy Run [RMK]: Taggart SARU 428 (WNC!). [= RAB, Weakley]
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Occurrence in North America
MD MA MI MO MS NC NJ NY OH OK
ON OR PA RI SC TN TX VA WA WV
America from New York and Pennsylvania south to Florida and west to
southwestern Iowa and western Texas. It has escaped from cultivation in
New England to southern Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon,
Washington, and western Europe [4,19,33].
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
Devil's walking stick is a spiny, few-branched, flat-topped tree or
shrub 25 to 35 feet (7-10 m) tall. It grows from extensive rhizomes
[4,24,33,36,37]. The stems tend to remain unbranched until the first
terminal inflorescences are produced at an average age of 3.5 years.
There are abundant prickles on the stems and leaves of first-year ramets
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Devil's walking stick is found in upland and low woods, pocosins, and
savannahs . It prefers rich moist soils and is found at edges of
streams, and in thickets and shrub bays [13,33]. Some of the plant
species associated with Devil's walking stick include black cherry
(Prunus serotina), eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), tree
sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), red maple (Acer rubrum var trilobum),
American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), common persimmon (Diospyros
virginiana), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), Carolina jessamine
(Gelsemium sempervirens), Bignonia capreolata, St. Andrew's cross
(Ascyrum hypericoides), common sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria),
Vaccinium spp., and passionflower (Passiflora lutea) . Associates
on a Texas shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata)/white oak (Quercus alba)
community include Meliz azedarach, hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli), and
flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) .
Devil's walking stick is found in Louisiana in openings in upland
hardwoods, with plant associates including sassafras, American holly
(Ilex opaca), flowering dogwood, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum),
serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), common persimmon, Vaccinium spp., grape
(Vitis spp.), eastern hophornbeam, Viburnum spp., and Carolina buckthorn
(Rhamnus caroliniana). It is also found on gullied land and on moist
bottomlands with plant associates including American sycamore (Platanus
occidentalis) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) .
Devil's walking stick is found in southern Appalachian forests in
openings from 8,042 square feet to 10,763 square feet (750-1,000 sq m),
with the frequency of occurrence dropping off with larger gaps; it is
not found in undisturbed understory .
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch - red maple
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry - maple
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
44 Chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
59 Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
65 Pin oak - sweetgum
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
87 Sweet gum - yellow-poplar
108 Red maple
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K089 Black Belt
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
K109 Transition between K104 and K106
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
Foodplant / feeds on
densley gregarious, immersed then erumpent. pycnidium of Macrophoma coelomycetous anamorph of Macrophoma millepuncta var. spinosae feeds on petiole of Aralia spinosa
Plant Response to Fire
reported to result in vigorous resprouting of new ramets. It is
reasonable to assume, although not documented, that fire death of
aboveground stems would have the same result . Periodic fires
create openings in forest canopies that allow Devil's walking stick to
establish and maintain populations .
Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/root sucker
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
More info for the terms: hardwood, presence
Obligate Initial Community Species
Devil's walking stick is shade intolerant . In a study of
succession in Illinois oak (Quercus velutina) woodlands , Shotola 
reported that a population of Devil's walking stick (documented in 1967)
decreased as a population of sugar maple (Acer saccarum) increased; by
1983, no individuals were found. The assumption is that the increased
canopy coverage was unfavorable to Devil's walking stick. Devil's
walking stick is also found in abundance in clearcuts, but not in
adjacent intact pine plantations in Ohio. The population on this site
increased in the third and fourth years after the clearcut. There is
concern that the presence of Devil's walking stick on these sites may
delay subsequent establishment of hardwood species .
may be killed by frost in winter; severe frost can kill stems back to
ground level . Flowers are pollinated by insects, mostly bees.
Seeds are dispersed by frugivores, and germination is in the spring
following stratification [8,32,33]. Artificial propagation can be
achieved through root cuttings .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Aralia spinosa
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Aralia spinosa
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Common in the eastern U.S.
Control: Devil's walking stick is killed by aerosol applications of
glyphosate at rates of 1.50 to 2.25 pounds per acre (0.56-2.52 kg/ha)
applied three times at 2-week intervals from mid-August to mid-September
. Korostoff  reported that Devil's walking stick is controlled
by cutting and application of herbicide to the stump. The most
effective treatment reported by Loftis  is injection of stems larger
than 2 inches in diameter with herbicide; basal sprays were ineffective
on his study sites.
Establishment: Devil's walking stick populations are maintained only on
disturbed sites. When the overstory cover becomes thick enough, Devil's
walking stick declines. Defoliation by gypsy moth infestation in
Pennsylvania and Maryland resulted in an increase in stems per acre of
Devil's walking stick, due both to injury of Devil's walking stick
ramets and to release by removal of overstory . Mowing or cutting
of stems results in vigorous sprouting of new ramets from underground
rhizomes and is recommended for maintenance of vigorous stands [14,15].
Fire also produces appropriate disturbances and stem damage, and could
be used to maintain Devil's walking stick stands .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
stick . The fruits are used as food by many birds and other
frugivores, including black bear [7,8,14,15]. Van Dersal reported that
deer use Devil's walking stick as browse . White  did not
observe any deer browsing of young ramets but did observe stem damage
due to antler rubbing.
Aralia spinosa, commonly known as Devil's Walkingstick, is a woody species of plants in the genus Aralia, family Araliaceae, native to eastern North America. The various names refer to the viciously sharp, spiny stems, petioles, and even leaf midribs. It has also been known as Angelica-tree.
This species is sometimes called Hercules' Club, Prickly Ash, or Prickly Elder, common names it shares with the unrelated Zanthoxylum clava-herculis. For this reason, Aralia spinosa is sometimes confused with that species and mistakenly called the Toothache Tree, but it does not have the medicinal properties of Zanthoxylum clava-herculis.
Aralia spinosa is occasionally cultivated for its exotic, tropical appearance, having large lacy compound leaves. It is closely related to the Asian species Aralia elata, a more commonly cultivated species with which it is easily confused.
Aralia spinosa is an aromatic spiny deciduous shrub or small tree growing 2–8 m (6–25 ft) tall, with a simple or occasionally branched stem with very large bipinnate leaves 70–120 cm (28–48 in) long. The trunks are up to 15–20 cm (6–8 in) in diameter, with the plants umbrella-like in habit with open crowns. The young stems are stout and thickly covered with sharp spines. The plants generally grow in clusters of branchless trunks, although stout wide-spreading branches are occasionally produced.
The flowers are creamy-white, individually small (about 5 mm or 0.2 in across) but produced in large composite panicles 30–60 cm (12–24 in) long; flowering is in the late summer. The fruit is a purplish-black berry 6–8 mm (0.24–0.3 in) in diameter, ripening in the fall. The roots are thick and fleshy.
The doubly or triply compound leaves are the largest of any temperate tree in the continental United States, often about a meter (three feet) long and 60 cm (two feet) wide, with leaflets about 5–8 cm (2–3 in) long. The petioles are prickly, with swollen bases. In the autumn the leaves turn to a peculiar bronze red touched with yellow which makes the tree conspicuous and attractive.
The habit of growth and general appearance of Aralia spinosa and related tree-forming Aralia species are unique. It is usually found as a group of unbranched stems, rising to the height of 3.5–6 m (12–20 ft), which bear upon their summits a crowded cluster of doubly or triply compound leaves, thus giving to each stem a certain tropical palm-like appearance. In the south it is said to reach the height of 15 m (50 ft), still retaining its palm-like aspect. However, further north, the slender, swaying, palm-like appearance is most characteristic of younger plants that have not been damaged by winter storms.
- Bark: Light brown, divided into rounded broken ridges. Branchlets one-half to two-thirds of an inch in diameter, armed with stout, straight or curved, scattered prickles and nearly encircled by narrow leaf scars. At first light yellow brown, shining and dotted, later light brown.
- Wood: Brown with yellow streaks; light, soft, brittle, close-grained.
- Winter buds: Terminal bud chestnut brown, one-half to three-fourths of an inch long, conical, blunt; axillary buds flattened, triangular, one-fourth of an inch in length.
- Leaves: Clustered at the end of the branches, compound, bi- and tri-pinnate, three to four feet long, two and a half feet broad. The pinnae are unequally pinnate, having five or six pairs of leaflets and a long stalked terminal leaflet; these leaflets are often themselves pinnate. The last leaflets are ovate, two to three inches long, wedge-shaped or rounded at base, serrate or dentate, acute; midrib and primary veins prominent. They come out of the bud a bronze green, shining, somewhat hairy; when full grown are dark green above, pale beneath; midribs frequently furnished with prickles. Petioles stout, light brown, eighteen to twenty inches in length, clasping, armed with prickles. Stipules acute, one-half inch long.
- Flowers: July, August. Perfect or polygamomonoecious, cream white, borne in many-flowered umbels arranged in compound panicles, forming a terminal racemose cluster, three to four feet in length which rises, solitary or two or three together, above the spreading leaves. Bracts and bractlets lanceolate, acute, persistent.
- Calyx: Calyx tube coherent with the ovary, minutely five-toothed.
- Corolla: Petals five, white, inserted on margin of the disk, acute, slightly inflexed at the apex, imbricate in bud.
- Stamens: Five, inserted on margin of the disk, alternate with the petals; filaments thread-like; anthers oblong, attached on the back, introrse, two-celled; cells opening longitudinally.
- Pistil: Ovary inferior, five-celled; styles five, connivent; stigmas capitate.
- Fruit: Berry-like drupe, globular, black, one-fourth of an inch long, five-angled, crowned with the blackened styles. Flesh thin, dark.
Distribution and habitat
Aralia spinosa is widespread in the eastern United States, ranging from New York to Florida along the Atlantic coast, and westward to Ohio, Illinois, and Texas. It prefers a deep moist soil. The plants typically grow in the forest Understory or at the edges of forests, often forming clonal thickets by sprouting from the roots.
This tree was admired by the Iroquois because of its usefulness, and for its rarity. The Iroquois would take the saplings of the tree and plant them near their villages and on islands, so that animals wouldn't eat the valuable fruit. The fruit was used in many of the natives' foods. The women would take the flowers and put them in their hair because of the lemony smell. The flowers could also be traded for money.
The young leaves can be eaten if gathered before the prickles harden. They are then chopped finely and cooked as a potherb.
Aralia spinosa was introduced into cultivation in 1688 and is still grown for its decorative foliage, prickly stems, large showy flower panicles [clusters], and distinctive fall color. These plants are slow growing, tough and durable, do well in urban settings, but bear numerous prickles on their stems, petioles, and leaflets. These plants can be propagated from seeds or root cuttings.
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 165–168.
- Kristina Connor. "Aralia spinosa". Wildland Shrubs of the United States and its Territories: Thamnic Descriptions, General Technical Report IITF-WB-1, Edited by John K. Francis. International Institute of Tropical Forestry. Retrieved 2008-08-24.
- Poor, Janet Meakin, and Nancy P. Brewster. 1994. Plants that merit attention Vol 2, Shrubs. Portland, OR: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-347-8 Page 34.
Names and Taxonomy
Devil's walking stick
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