House Call

Aralia The caller wasn’t distraught — this was far from being a 9-1-1 call. She was just curious about a tree she’d discovered in her woods and wondered if I could direct her to someone who might be able to identify it. “It’s the prettiest tree I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It has a huge spray of tiny flowers, and the butterflies just love it!”

I couldn’t resist. “I’ll be right out!” I said, grabbing my field guide to Eastern North American trees, and heading out the door.

When I reached the log cabin out Jump-off Road overlooking Lost Cove, I knew her tree the minute I spotted it. “That’s Devil’s Walking-Stick!” I proclaimed.

“But it doesn’t have thorns,” she countered.

A quick foray into the wooded area for an up-close inspection confirmed my ID. “Yes, it does!” I exclaimed. My caller, a self-proclaimed “tick magnet,” was genial about taking my word for it — she was not following anyone into the woods.

“You should see it in the late-afternoon sun,” she mused. “The flowers fairly sparkle!” The tree was surely pretty today — and we found another nearby that’s almost as spectacular.

Devil’s Walking-Stick, Aralia spinosa, is a small tree, and it boasts the largest leaves of any tree in our flora. They’re doubly compound — the leaflets are composed of smaller leaflets, and an entire leaf can be four or five feet long and nearly as wide. The tree rarely branches, and when the leaves fall in autumn, what’s left does look a lot like a very ornery thorn-covered walking stick. And it’s a relative of American ginseng, a rare plant that our caller was proud to say that she also has on her land, along with Catesby’s trilliums and other interesting plants. Needless to say, it was a joy to meet her and see her beautiful place.



  1. Todd Crabtree

    Last month a coworker and I sat down for lunch in a shady spot along the Natchez Trace Parkway and not far away were several flowering Aralia spinosa. We were amazed at how many insects and how many different kinds of insects were attracted to the flowers.

  2. marypriestley

    Oh, Todd, I would have loved to have seen that!

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