THE NAME SOUNDS OMINOUS: DEVIL’S WALKING STICK. But it’s one of my most beloved woody plants, a native who looks like an alien, a misbehaved wanderer who gets into everything and is a total delight nevertheless, to me and to the hungry birds.
I couldn’t find Aralia spinosa for sale 15 years or so ago when I first wanted it, but a nearby nursery knew of a stash and got me some. They sent then-staffer David Burdick, now a popular daffodil and bromeliad expert with a business of his own, with the first few prickly beasts in ball and burlap.
And those begat a colony, over time, a tropical-looking grove that’s handsome in leaf and in its high-summer flower period, and positively unparallelled in its autumn show of foliage and fruit. Its canopy becomes a stained-glass window of purple and orange, yellow and green; a remarkable sight.
A few wood thrushes and a lot of robins make the glade of devil’s walking stick a regular hangout this time of year, as do the blue jays, drinking up the overripe berries and acting bawdy all the while. Nobody seems to mind the frighteningly spiny trunks, which get to 15 or 20 feet here.
Apparently the devil’s walking stick, which is native to most of the Eastern United States and even into Texas (see map), gets even bigger in its southern range, to 30 feet. No matter its height, the stark trunks do not branch, making them even more eerie.
Never content with one of anything, I’ve got another colony going, having cut down the trunks of young suckers and moved the root masses into the new location. Don’t choose a site where manners are too important; this is a plant that wants to have its own room. I’m happy to give it several, devil be damned.