A Writers Guide to Devil’s Walkingstick

Devil's Walkingstick stem

Devil’s Walkingstick stem with lots of spines

Devil’s Walkingstick is a woody deciduous shrub that typically grows between 8 and 12 feet in height, but has been known to grow as high as 30 feet. It has sharp, spiny stems, petioles, and leaf midribs (the veiny part of the leaf). The leaves are large and bipinnate or tripinnate. Numerous umbels of creamy-white flowers bloom in clusters on the top of the plant looking like a cloud, and dark purplish-black berries hang from reddish-purple stems. In the fall, the leaves turn to a bronze-red tinted with yellow.


Botanical Name: Aralia spinosa

Common/Folk Names: Angelica-tree, Devil’s Walkingstick (Devil’s Walking Stick), Hercules’ Club, Toothache Tree, Prickly Ash, and Prickly Elder

Life Cycle: long-lived perennial
Habitat: forest understory and edges of forests, prefers deep moist soil
Blooms: summer

Smell: fragrant and peculiar, flowers have a lemony scent
Taste: slightly bitter


  • Parts of plant, like the berries, are poisonous if ingested.
  • Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.
  • This plant attracts bees, butterflies, and birds.
  • It’s sometimes confused with Zanthoxylum clava-herculis whose common names also include Prickly Ash and Toothache Tree, and it has similar looking leaves and spiny stem.
Devil's Walkingstick plant

Devil’s Walkingstick plant with flowers


  • Eating fresh bark causes vomiting.
  • Leaves are used as salad greens.
  • A tincture made from the bark was used for rheumatism, skin diseases, and syphilis.
  • A tincture made from the berries was used to dull pain, especially in rotting teeth.
  • Cherokee Indians used the inner bark and berries as anti-inflammatory pain relievers for arthritic joints and sore teeth with inflamed gums.
  • Iroquois women placed the flowers in their hair because of the lemony smell. The flowers were also traded as money.
  • The plant was popular in Victorian gardens because of its uniqueness and strangeness.
  • Donald Culross Peattie’s A Natural History of Trees (1950) stated that “the inner bark has the property of curing the toothache. The patient rolls it up the size of a bean, puts it upon the aching tooth.”


  • Believed to cure snakebites.

Side Note

I first saw this plant at a Natural History Muesum. It’s wild, right? I wasn’t able to find a lot of information about it, but it’s too cool not to mention.

This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.


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  1. A natural anti-pain medicine? I'm sure we don't use it as such these days.

  2. Hi Holly – wonderful plant – well ruthless I guess. It's incredible what nature provides us with .. lovely fluffy flowers yet with that lethal stem … poor Victorian gardeners – bet they had lots of thorns to deal with …

    So fascinating – cheers Hilary

  3. Stickier than a rose bush. Easing a toothache would be worth it though.

  4. This plant has one interesting background. I can definitely see why it's called the Devil's Walking Stick! Those are some serious thorns.

  5. It is too cool not not mention. What a neat looking plant! And I can see how it got its name. 🙂

  6. I didn't know any of this, pretty cool. Also, I like how the stick looks like he is smiling.

    1. Ha! You're right, it does. 🙂

  7. Neat looking plant. Sounds like it might be difficult to extract the ingredients you'd want from the plant since handling it can cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.

  8. Hi Holly! The stick looks awfully dangerous, but the flower and leaves quite beautiful.There's often a medicinal use for plants like this. They say the cure for every human ill is contained in our forests. Let's hope they find them all before the forests are destroyed!

    Glad you're back!!

  9. That thing is creepy on so many levels, not least of which are the dichotomy of good and bad existing within it. Plus, it just looks freaky! lol Have a lovely week!

  10. I have never heard of that one. Super cool nickname, and that trunk is kinda freaky. There's definitely some awesome fodder here for a story or two.

  11. This one’s new to me. A little bit scary looking without the blooms, but I love the name. In addition to the healing properties, it looks as though the stalk would make a good weapon.

  12. So many uses! Next time I want to eat a salad that makes me throw up I'll grab some (having bought it with the money flowers) and then I'll put some in my hair so I can feel like a pretty princess.

  13. I agree, it is pretty cool. I'd heard of it but didn't know anything about it. Thanks for the info!

  14. Neat plant! It's interesting to me that something that's poisonous eaten raw would be healing as a tincture.

  15. You wouldn't want to accidentally fall into that shrub…

  16. I'm sure this plant has some kind of benefits, but this doesn't sound like anything I'd put in as part of my landscaping.

    Arlee Bird
    <a href="http://tossingitout.blogspot.com/">Tossing It Out</a>

  17. Ooo, I haven't heard of this one before. That's interesting that its leaves are used as salad greens.

  18. I bet in the days before proper dental care, people had to resort to these sorts of things a lot. Very interesting!

  19. That's a cool bit of info!

  20. Yeah, that's definitely one walking stick I don't want to pick up! Looks like it'd really stick it to its holder. 🙂

  21. I've never seen or heard of this plant before. Great name for it!

  22. I've not seen this plant before. Just on our local news now was they are regularizing natural medicines…which sounds good.

  23. Hi,It's incredible what nature provides us with .. lovely fluffy flowers yet with that lethal stem.
    So fascinating.

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