Aralia spinosa L.

Hercules' Club, Devil's Walking Stick

Aralia spinosa plant

Family - Araliaceae

Habit - Shrubs or small trees, colonial from long rhizomes.

Stems - Erect, to 12 m, woody, mostly unbranched, with stout spines, these mostly just below the leaf scars. Bark with shallow furrows and longitudinal plates, dark brown. Leaf scars linear, U-shaped, with several bundle scars in a single row.

Aralia spinosa nodeNode with spines.

Leaves - Alternate, large, to 1.5 m long, 2 or 3 times pinnately compound, the ultimate branches with 9-13 leaflets, the leaflets 4-13 cm long, ovate, toothed, the upper surface dark green, the undersurface lighter green, often with hairs or minute spines along the midvein.

Inflorescence - Large, terminal, highly branched panicles with numerous umbels, the branches hairy, usually turning red at maturity.

Flowers - Sepals 5 low, triangular teeth. Petals distinct, 5, 2-3 mm long, reflexed, white. Styles 5.

Fruits - Globose drupes, 4-6 mm in diameter, black when mature.

Aralia spinosa fruitsFruits.

Flowering - June - September.

Habitat - Moist soils, woods, wooded slopes. Sometimes cultivated.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - Native populations of this interesting species occur in the bootheel region of Missouri, and across the southern and eastern U.S. There are reports of native occurrences in Missouri as far north as St. Louis.

One glimpse of the spiny nodes is sufficient for identification. Under favorable conditions the plant can form large colonies. The inflorescences are large and striking, though they are typically borne high and out of reach. The plant would make a good garden subject provided space is available for its tall and suckering habit. The black fruits with purplish pulp are eaten by birds and other wildlife, and have sometimes been used to dye hair black. The relatively soft wood was once used in woodworking to make small items such as pen racks, button boxes, frames for photographs, and small furniture items. An infusion of the yellow inner bark purportedly was used for toothaches, but the bark and roots cause dermatitis in some individuals.

Photograph taken at Kansas City Zoo, 6-24-99, and at Hanging Rock State Park, Stokes County, NC., 9-1-02.