Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, fertile, humusy loams, but tolerates a wide range of soils including rocky and clayey ones. Tolerates drought. Generally tolerates many urban pollutants. Best sited in areas sheltered from strong winds to help protect the large compound leaves. Easily grown from seed, division of suckers or root cuttings. Plants will spread somewhat rapidly by self-seeding and suckering to form thickets. Promptly remove root suckers to prevent unwanted naturalization.
Aralia spinosa, commonly called devil’s walking stick or Hercules club, gets its common name from the stout, sharp spines found on its leaf stalks, stems and branches. This is a large, upright, suckering, deciduous shrub that typically grows to 10-15’ tall, but infrequently grows as a small flat topped tree to as much as 35’ tall. It is native to Missouri where it typically occurs in low upland woods, thickets, wooded slopes, bluffs and ravines in several counties in the far southeastern corner of the state (Steyermark). In other parts of its native range in the eastern U.S., it is commonly found in wood margins, fields and pastures. Interesting compound foliage, late summer flowers, juicy black fruit and spiny stems give this shrub distinctive and unique ornamental interest. Sparse, upright, mostly unbranched, club-like branches, ringed with conspicuous leaf scars and spines, are typically naked at the bottom but crowned at the top by umbrella-like canopies of huge compound leaves. Alternate, bipinnate to tripinnate, medium to dark green leaves grow 2-5 feet long and 2-4 feet wide, with individual leaflets (2-4” long) having toothed margins. Foliage turns pale yellow to dull purple brown in fall. Small, 5-petaled, white flowers (to 1/8” across) bloom in huge, terminal, umbellose panicles (to 24” long) in July–August. Flowers are quite showy and very attractive to bees. Flowers are followed by clusters of fleshy, spherical, black drupes that ripen in late August-October. Drupes are quite attractive to birds.
Genus name comes from the Latinization of the old French-Canadian name of aralie.
Specific epithet means spiny.
Additional common names for this plant include angelica tree and prickly ash.
No serious insect or disease problems. Susceptible to leaf spots. Aphids and mealybugs may appear. Handling bark and roots may cause allergic skin reactions.
Best utilized in infrequently traveled areas where contact with the plant spines is unlikely. Plants can appear coarse in winter, but the compound foliage, flowers, fruit and general plant habit lend diversity and interest during the growing season. Good for shrub borders, woodland margins and remote areas of the landscape where it can be allowed to spread. Native plant areas.