General: Rue Family (Rutaceae). It is an aromatic, native, perennial tree or shrub that can grow from 1 to 8 meters tall. The branches are dark brown and armed with 8 to 13 mm-long prickles. When broken, the twigs have a strong odor reminiscent of crushed lemon peel. The leaf buds (1mm long) are red and woolly. The leaves (1 to 30 cm long) are composed of 5 to 11 ovate, pinnately arranged leaflets (4 to 8 cm long). The dark green and lustrous leaves are dotted with translucent glands. The lower portion of the leaf is a lighter pubescent green beneath. The greenish-yellow flowers (3 to 3.5 mm wide) appear in the spring before the leaves. The small fruits are capsules (0.5 to 0.6 cm). Each fruit contains one seed. The fruit ripens in late summer, turning from green to reddish brown. When the seeds mature, they hang exposed from the split capsules.
Distribution: For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: This plant occurs along riverbanks and in moist ravines, thickets, and woods. It is also found in somewhat drier areas such as upland rocky hillsides, bluffs, and open woods.
Northern prickly ash, toothache tree; this genus is incorrectly spelled Xanthoxylum in much of the literature.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
Canada (North America)
United States (North America)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103
- Voss, E. G. 1985. Michigan Flora. Part II Dicots (Saururaceae-Cornaceae). Bull. Cranbrook Inst. Sci. 59. xix + 724. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1700
- Gleason, H. A. 1968. The Choripetalous Dicotyledoneae. vol. 2. 655 pp. In H. A. Gleason Ill. Fl. N. U.S. (ed. 3). New York Botanical Garden, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1704
- Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles & C. R. Bell. 1968. Man. Vasc. Fl. Carolinas i–lxi, 1–1183. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/636
- Small, J. K. 1933. Man. S.E. Fl. i–xxii, 1–1554. Published by the Author, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1515
- Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Fl. Great Plains i–vii, 1–1392. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/637
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Comments: Zanthoxylum americanum is considered an eastern deciduous forest "endemic" and grows in shaded and partially shaded conditions in medium to low elevations (Porter 1976). It has been recorded on mesic bluffs, deciduous forests, mountains, river banks, stream banks, deciduous thickets and woodlands, moist woods and thickets (Porter 1976, Gleason and Cronquist 1991).
Common pricklyash is a very hearty tree or small shrub that does well in poor soils. Although easily grown, the plants are not generally used for landscape purposes as ornamentals. Because of the plants small yet sharp thorns and suckering habit, they can make an efficient barrier planting. The plants do well in partial shade to full sun. Seeds, suckers, and root cuttings may propagate pricklyash. The seeds may be gathered from the plants when the capsules are open. Unopened capsules will open upon drying. The seeds will require scarification to germinate, unless they are sown in the fall immediately after collecting them.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Prickly Ash in Illinois
(on staminate flowers, bees usually suck and less often collect pollen, while other insects suck nectar; on pistillate flowers, all insects suck nectar; observations are from Robertson)
On staminate flowers:
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn cp fq; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada cuneatus sn fq, Nomada luteola sn fq; Megachilidae (Osmiini): Osmia pumila sn fq
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella striata sn, Lasioglossum coriaceus sn, Lasioglossum cressonii sn, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp fq; Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes inaequalis sn fq icp; Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena cressonii sn fq, Andrena forbesii sn fq, Andrena imitatrix imitatrix sn fq, Andrena miserabilis bipunctata sn fq, Andrena sn rugosa fq, Andrena sayi sn fq
Pompilidae: Priocnemis cornicus; Chrysididae: Chrysura pacifica
Syrphidae: Brachypalpus oarus, Toxomerus geminatus fq; Tachinidae: Gonia capitata fq
Oedemeridae: Asclera puncticollis
On pistillate flowers:
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera fq; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina calcarata; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada cressonii, Nomada cuneatus fq, Nomada denticulata, Nomada illinoiensis fq, Nomada luteola fq, Nomada ovatus fq, Nomada sayi fq, Nomada sulphurata; Megachilidae (Osmiini): Osmia lignaria lignaria fq, Osmia pumila fq
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella striata, Augochloropsis metallica metallica, Augochloropsis sumptuosa fq, Halictus ligatus, Halictus rubicunda, Lasioglossum cinctipes, Lasioglossum foxii fq, Lasioglossum imitatus fq, Lasioglossum versatus fq, Lasioglossum zephyrus fq, Paralictus platyparius; Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes inaequalis fq icp; Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena cressonii fq, Andrena forbesii fq, Andrena hippotes, Andrena imitatrix imitatrix fq, Andrena mandibularis, Andrena miserabilis bipunctata fq, Andrena pruni fq, Andrena rugosa fq, Andrena sayi fq
Syrphidae: Epistrophe emarginata, Eristalis dimidiatus, Eupeodes americanus, Helophilus fasciatus, Orthonevra nitida, Sphaerophoria contiqua, Toxomerus geminatus fq; Conopidae: Myopa vesiculosa; Tachinidae: Archytas analis, Gonia capitata fq, Periscepsia clesides; Sarcophagidae: Ravinia derelicta; Calliphoridae: Phormia regina; Muscidae: Neomyia cornicina fq; Scathophagidae: Scathophaga furcata
Noctuidae: Anagrapha falcifera
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Zanthoxylum americanum
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Zanthoxylum americanum
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Zanthoxylum americanum ranges from Oklahoma to southern Canada, east to New England and south to Florida. This weedy species is relatively common in the western portion of the range, though occasional and rare throughout portions of the eastern range. Z. americanum is currently of limited demand in the commercial trade for medicinal plants, however all material in trade is wild-collected.
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Comments: According to Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, there is currently "limited demand" for this species, which is considered to be "aggressive" in its growth habits (pers. comm., December 2000). The estimated average annual use in medicinal industry ranges from 2,000-5,000 dry pounds and 100% of that total is collected from wild populations (pers. comm. E. Fletcher, 2000).
Pests and potential problems
Common pricklyash has no serious insect or disease problems.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are not readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Production Methods: Wild-harvested
Ethnobotanic: The Alabama, Cherokee, Chippewa, Comanche, Creek, Delaware, Iroquois, Oklahoma, Menominee, Meskwaki, Ojibwa, Pawnee, and Potawatomi were among the Native American tribes that used common pricklyash for many, mostly medicinal purposes. An infusion of the bark was used as a wash to treat itching skin and to treat swollen joints. Infusions of the bark were taken internally for back pain, cramps, pulmonary problems, to treat fevers, and as a cold and cough remedy. Infusions, made from the crushed roots, were also used to treat fevers. A poultice made from the inner bark was used to treated rheumatism and sharp pains. Placing the inner bark in the throat treated sore throats. The bark was boiled into a decoction that was taken to induce miscarriages. The plant was used to treat pain after childbirth. Bark infusions were taken to treat worms in adults. The bark of the roots was used to treat colic, rheumatism, and gonorrhea. An ointment, made my mixing the plant with bear grease, was applied to ulcers and sores. Infusions of the berries were used to spray on the chest and throat to treat bronchial diseases, to wash sores, and to flavor medicines. The bark and the berries were used to treat hemorrhages, to make cough syrup, as an expectorant, and to treat tuberculosis. Children who were weak were washed with a decoction of the bark to make their legs and feet strong. The bark was used in different forms to alleviate toothaches. Smoking the bark treated toothache. Bark, either beaten or powdered was packed in and around an aching tooth. Pieces of the bark were chewed to help breakup a tooth that was to be remove. The plant was an ingredient in compounds that were used for kidney trouble, to strengthen convalescing patients, and to induce vomiting. An infusion of the bark was, at least once, placed on a dog’s nose to improve its scenting capabilities during hunting. The fruits were administered as diuretics to horses. Young men of the Omaha tribe used a perfume made from the fruits. The plant is probably still used today for various purposes by various Native American tribes.
Wildlife: The fruits are eaten by a variety of birds and small mammals including bobwhite quails, vireos, pheasants, cottontails, and eastern chipmunks. Bees are attracted to the flowers. Giant swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on the plants leaves.
Zanthoxylum americanum, the Common Prickly-ash, Common Pricklyash, Common Prickly Ash or Northern Prickly-ash (also sometimes called Toothache Tree, Yellow Wood, or Suterberry), is an aromatic shrub or small tree native to central and eastern portions of the United States and Canada. It is the northernmost New World species in the Citrus (Rutaceae) family, and is part of the same genus as sichuan pepper. It can grow to 10 meters (33 ft) tall with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 15 cm (6 in). It produces membranous leaflets and axillary flower clusters. The wood is not commercially valuable, but oil extracts from the bark have been used in traditional and alternative medicine, and have been studied for antifungal and cytotoxic properties. The genus name is sometimes spelled Xanthoxylum.
Originally described by Scottish botanist Philip Miller in 1768, Zanthoxylum americanum is a member of the wide-ranging genus Zanthoxylum in the plant family Rutaceae, which includes many species with aromatic foliage. Miller, who spelled the name Xanthoxylum, described the plant in the eighth edition of his Gardeners Dictionary, as "grow[ing] naturally in Pensylvania [sic] and Maryland".
The plant has pinnately compound leaves with 5–11 membranous leaflets. It has axillary flower and fruit clusters. The buds are hairy. The dark green leaves are bitter-aromatic, with crenate margins. The berries begin red and turn deep blue to black, with stalked fruit pods. Flowers are dioecious, with yellow-green petals.
Distribution and conservation status
Rare in the South, it is more common in the northern United States. In the United States, it occurs in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia; the species also occurs in Ontario and Quebec in Canada. The species is listed as Endangered in Florida, Maryland, and New Hampshire; and as Special Concern in Tennessee.
An oil extracted from the bark and berries of the prickly-ash (both this species and Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) has been used in herbal medicine. The extract may act as a stimulant, and historic medicinal use has included use "for chronic rheumatism, typhoid and skin diseases and impurity of the blood..." as well as for digestive ailments. Grieve states, "The berries are considered even more active than the bark, being carminative and antispasmodic, and are used as an aperient and for dyspepsia and indigestion; a fluid extract of the berries being given, in doses of 10 to 30 drops." The bark has been chewed for toothaches, and a tea from the berries has been used for sore throats and as a diuretic. As noted by Michael Dirr, in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, "Supposedly the stems and fruits were chewed by the Indians to alleviate toothache for the acrid juice has a numbing effect."[this quote needs a citation]
Modern studies and uses
In 2012, a Pennsylvania distillery introduced a bitters called Bartram's Bitters that uses prickly ash bark as one of several botanical ingredients. The concoction was based on a recipe for "Bartram's Homestead Bitters" that was found in a book that belonged to the family of botanist John Bartram.
- "Zanthoxylum americanum" (range map). U.S. Geological Survey.
- Duncan, Wilbur H. and Marion B. Duncan (1988). Trees of the Southeastern United States. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 0-8203-1469-2.
- International Organization for Plant Information (IOPI). "Plant Name Search Results" (HTML). International Plant Names Index. Retrieved July 5, 2009.
- Miller, Philip (1768). The Gardeners Dictionary: Containing the Best and Newest Methods of Cultivating and Improving The Kitchen, Fruit, Flower Garden, and Nursery; As also for Performing The Practical Parts of Agriculture: Including the Management of Vineyards, With The Methods of Making and Preserving Wine, According to the present Practice of The most skilful Vignerons in the several Wine Countries in Europe. Together With Directions for Propagating and Improving, From Real Practice and Experience, All Sorts of Timber Trees (Eighth ed.). London: Printed for the Author.
- "NPIN: Zanthoxylum americanum (Common pricklyash)". Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- Grieve, Mrs. M. (1931, revised 1973, republished 1996). Mrs. C. F. Leyel, ed. A Modern Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. pp. 70–71. ISBN 0-88029-921-5.
- Brown, Claud L.; L. Katherine Kirkman (1990). Trees of Georgia and Adjacent States. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. pp. 163–164. ISBN 0-88192-148-3.
- "PLANTS profile for Zanthoxylum americanum Mill. (common pricklyash)". Natural Resources Conservation Service. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- Foster, Steven; James A. Duke (1990). A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America. The Peterson Field Guide Series. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 238. ISBN 0-395-35309-2.
- N. Bafiyeboa. Antifungal constituents of Northern prickly ash, Mill. Phytomedicine, Volume 12, Issue 5, Pages 370–377
- Ju, Yong; Dr Cecil C. Still, John N. Sacalis, Jiangang Li, Chi-Tang Ho (Jul 30, 2001). "Cytotoxic coumarins and lignans from extracts of the northern prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)". Phytotherapy Research (John Wiley & Sons) 15 (5): 441–443. doi:10.1002/ptr.686. PMID 11507740. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- Saqib, Q. N.; Y.-H. Hui, J. E. Anderson, J. L. McLaughlin (Jan 11, 2006). "Bioactive furanocoumarins from the berries of Zanthoxylum americanum". Phytotherapy Research (John Wiley & Sons) 4 (6): 216–219. doi:10.1002/ptr.2650040604. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- Nichols, Rick (May 25, 2012). "The resurrection of Bartram's Bitters". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2013-06-15.