Aralia spinosa L.

Devil's Walking Stick


CC = 6
CW = 0
MOC = 11

© KBildner

Family - Araliaceae

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

Stems - Ascending or 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_stem1.jpg Young stem.

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_stem2.jpg Older stem.

Spines are often concentrated at nodes.

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_node.jpg Node with spines.

© DETenaglia

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.

Aralia_spinosa_leaf1.jpg Single leaf (partial).

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_leaflet1.jpg Leaflets adaxial.

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_leaflet2a.jpg Leaflets abaxial.

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_newleaf.jpg Newly emerging leaf in spring. Note spines already present on rachises.

© SRTurner

Inflorescences - Large, terminal, highly branched panicles with numerous umbels, the branches hairy, usually turning red at maturity. Plants apparently polygamomonoecious, having staminate, pistillate, and perfect flowers on the same plant.

Aralia_spinosa_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_inflorescence2.jpg Inflorescence detail, showing both staminate and pistillate portions.

© SRTurner

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

Aralia_spinosa_staminate.jpg Staminate flowers.

© SRTurner

Aralia_spinosa_pistillate.jpg Pistillate flowers.

© SRTurner

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

Aralia_spinosa_fruits.jpg Fruits.

© DETenaglia

Flowering - June - September.

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

Origin - Native to the 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. A closer look can sometimes be gained by bending young saplings down. Care is needed to avoid damage, both to the tree AND to the hands, since even young leaf stalks can be spiny! 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 (DETenaglia); also at Morris State Park, Dunklin County, MO, 4-10-2018, Holly Ridge Conservation Area, Stoddard County, MO, 10-17-2017, 5-29-2020, 8-16-2021, and 5-23-2022 (SRTurner); also at Holly Ridge Conservation Area, Stoddard County, MO, 8-16-2021 (KBildner).