This week for Flora and Fauna Friday we have a strange stickish sticking plant, Devil’s-Walking-Stick (Aralia spinosa).

Devil’s-Walking-Stick is an interesting woody plant that grows throughout the Southeast. It’s found in a wide range of understory habitats with variable soils but it does best in moist, rich soils. It spreads clonally by its roots and, when given space, to form thickets in the understory. This plant produces a single, perfectly straight, narrow stem with a fairly consistent diameter. Each year this stem grows taller but hardly any wider, producing no branches even as it stretches past twenty feet in height. That stem is ringed in projections and prominences of prickles all along its length. Most notably, its buds produce a gnarly ring of painful pokers at a regular interval. This is where the colorful colloquial common name comes into play. The stalk is thin, straight, and tough, giving it the ideal features of a walking stick. Yet its bark is so thoroughly armed as to thwart that thought against further consideration. It’s also important to note that Devil’s-Walking-Stick is deciduous. So in winter it reduces its profile down to nothing more than a mere twig until spring.

In stark contrast to its fence-post physique, each year’s fresh growth produces an umbrella of gargantuan, tri-pinnately compound leaves. Each leaf being two feet in width and sometimes twice as long! In truth, they’re the biggest leaves native to the whole United States. In summer their canopy is capped in a profusion of pale-green flowers at a foot or more in diameter. Over the next month or so the flowers set fruit and ripen into a stalk straining haze of glistening purple-black drupes. These fruits are adored by birds and the flowers that preceded are often enveloped in swarms of pollinating insects. These features make Devil’s-Walking-Stick a worthwhile addition to most any pollinator garden or wildlife friendly yard.

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