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Meet A Tree - Blog

Meet A Tree - Blog

Devil's Walkingstick -Aralia spinosa

Posted on 10 May, 2016 at 8:45

The Devil's Walking Stick -Aralia spinosa is best known for it's prickly trunk, umbrella form, and bi-pinnate or tri-pinnate leaves. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree that only reaches heights of only 30 feet tall. It is a member of the Ginseng family (Araliaceae). The main trunk is erect with a single trunk with little or very few ascending branches, the leaves are spreading and grouped near the top of the plant. It is considered to be invasive or annoying by many landowners and gardeners as the plant "pops" up at will and is often hard to kill without grinding out the root system. The Devil's Walking Stick propagates with a rhizomatous root system that extends just below the ground to create a cluster of plants in loose congregation. The individual stems are ramets, or clones, of the singular parent.   It is often times also called Hercules Club, Prickly Ash, Angelica Tree, Toothache Tree, Prickly Elder, Pigeon Tree, Pick Tree, Mississippi Hoe Handle, or Shotbush depending on the region.  

Image Citation: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,

Devil's Walking Stick was also for medicinal purposes by the Native Americans and Colonial Americans.   A decoction of the bark was used to break a fever by increasing perspiration and for intestinal discomfort because of its emetic and purgative properties. The roots were mashed and cooked down to make a topical treatment that was used to treat boils and other skin irritations. Colonial Americans, notably those of African descent, used a similar topical treatment after a snakebite. The water used to boil the roots to craft topical treatments was also retained to treat eye irritations.  Devil's Walking Stick is mildly toxic if ingested in sufficient quantities.  The toxins are concentrated in the seeds of the berries and can cause gastrointestinal disturbances both mild and severe depending on amounts ingested.  There is some theory that Devil's Walking Stick has been the cause of livestock poisoning.   In spite of the soft and weak properties of the wood, it has been used to craft small boxes, picture frames, pens, and rocking chairs arms. The stems if cut in the early Spring can be stripped of their thorny external skin and made into plant stakes and ironically walking sticks.  It was planted as an ornamental in English gardens during the late 19th Century as a contrarious gesture to conformity as it has a natural appearance that is in no way formal. Today it is not sold or marketed as an ornamental as it is not an ideal planting for any landscape other then a natural one, if planted it is used mainly in reforestation areas. 

Image Citation: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,




The Devils Walking Stick is native to woodland areas, undisturbed lands, thickets, bogs and pine margins from Maine to Central Florida in the East and Missouri to Eastern Texas in the West. It is generally found between 0-1500 meters in elevation. There are only two non-native tree sized species of Aralia that are naturalized in North America, The Japanese Angelica Tree and The Chinese Angelica Tree, both are similar in appearance but not necessarily in size.  The bark of the Devils Walking Stick is brown, smooth with slightly rough sections that bear obvious prickles that are very painful when making contact with the skin. The branches are stout, prickly and often have large encircling leaf scars. The leaves are alternate, bi-pinnate or tri-pinnate, compound, with triangular blades, numerous leaflets and a short stalk. The leaves are dark green on the upper surface and pale green on the lower, in the fall the leaves change to a rust or bronze color.   The flowers are made up of tiny white petals and sepals, five of each, inflorescence and a large terminal compound panicle. The flowers appear in the early Summer. The fruit is round, 5 stoned purple-black, or lavender drupe that is 5-8 mm long and matures in the Fall.

Image Citation ( 2 Photos- Trunk/Stem and Fall Leaves): Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

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Hi! I really need one of Aralia Spinosa tree, Could you please help? I live in MN.
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