Aralia spinosa Devil’s Walking Stick – New to Avery Island


Its always exciting to discover a new plant species on Avery Island and especially one that is native to Louisiana. On May 24th, I found a small grove of Aralia spinosa, Devils Walking stick growing in a wooded area near DeVance Pond, which is located in the center of the Island.

While the species was previously known from Iberia parish, it had not been reported or collected on Avery Island. The colony that I observed consists of at least five medium size trees. I intent to explore the patch of woods in greater detail to see the full extent of the colony.

Araila spinosa has pattern of distribution in the southeast not unlike many other native plants. It is noticeably absent from the Mississippi River flood plane and occurs extensively to the east and west of the river on elevated lands, with a most peculiar disjunct population in Iberia and St. Mary Parishes. This is a considerable distance from both the western and eastern populations, and could be either very old relicts or recent additions, since their fruits are widely consumed and dispersed by wildlife.

Devil’s walking stick is a member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae). The common name and species epithet is derived from sharp prickles on the plants stems and branches Its alternate leaves are pinnately to tri-pinnately compound and may be up to 5 feet long and 4 feet wide, making them amongst the largest leaves of any native plant found in North America

Devil’s walking stick supplies fruit for many animals such as squirrels, foxes and raccoons, as well as many songbirds. Their berries are also known to be a favorite food for larger species such as black bears. The nectar in the flowers is used by butterflies and bees. Overall it can be a very important food plant for many native species. In earlier periods, Aralia Spinosa found widespread use in folk medicines, food, and furniture making. One such folk medicine claimed that the dried leaves could be ingested and used as an antidepressant. A tincture made from the bark was also used for rheumatism, skin diseases and syphilis. Its very prominent sharp spines make it a potentially dangerous plant to handle.

This is an exciting discovery of a very useful native plant that may be more widespread in the forest of Avery Island than previously known.

Large compound leaves of Aralia
Stem with spines and leaf arrangement
Plant growing at edge of forest
Heavily armed stem of Devil’s Walking Stick

Known distribution of Aralia spinosa in the southeastern US

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