Wishlist: Aralia spinosa

by Andrew Keys on April 22, 2010

Spring has sprung, and I’m a busy guy this week, so I hope you’ll forgive me for recycling this old post from my short-lived Oakleaf Green Landscape Design blog on my business’ web site. (I use that space for news of the business now and, well, I blog here.)

I have to say, I’ve met more cool people in the year after I posted that original entry because we shared a interest in plants of the genus Aralia. Margaret Roach is a fan, as are the folks at Fine Gardening and Bedrock Gardens, and Tracy DiSabato-Aust herself commented on that original post. Oh, and I was also gifted enough Aralia spinosa divisions to start a grove of my own. If ever there were proof that interesting people love interesting plants, this is it.

If you’ve read About Me, you probably got how some of my fondest memories of childhood are set in the woods, specifically the woods behind my family’s home in Mississippi. Those woods are the source of my fascination with plants, and I daresay where I first botanized. (Yes, I botanized as a child. You’d think I’d have gotten into this line of work before 30.)

Reflecting on those woods, I’m amazed at the communities of unique plants there. I’m sure it’s also where my interest in obscure plants stems from, and it’s those members of the plant world I’ll discuss here: the unique, the underrated but no less useful.

First up, the dramatically named devil’s walkingstick, Aralia spinosa. Grew thick as thieves in the understory immediately behind our house, but it’s native to the whole Eastern U.S.

I never thought I’d miss them, but know what? Devil’s walkingstick is gorgeous. It grows tall in the shade among tree roots. Obviously it’s a native. It takes urban conditions. It’s drought tolerant and pest free. It looks tropical, its flowers are interesting, and there’s nothing like those big drupes when it’s fruiting.

The Asian species analogous to DWS is Aralia elata and its cultivars, like ‘Silver Umbrellas’ and ‘Aureovariegata,’ which gets face time in Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s new book. And how could you not love that face? All perfectly hardy, and I’m hoping great for a variety of uses: screening, tall things for shade, wildlife, and the list goes on.

Join me in saluting the humble, overlooked devil’s walkingstick, and ask your local nursery for them. Supposedly they’re hard to propagate, and that’s one reason they’re less common in the trade.

Banner photo by MOBOT.

Previous post:

Next post: