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
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.
- 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.
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.
Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine: Old World and New World Traditions by Gabrielle Hatfield
Walkingstick stem by Celerylady, Wikipedia.org
Walkingstick with leaves James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org, Wikipedia.org
series logo image by openclipart.org, awesome colorization by me!