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. In 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.
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. 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.
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year.
- Place the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it. Store the bag in a refrigerator for 1-2 months.
- Fill a pot with potting soil.
- Sow the seeds on the soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the container and leave it to drain.
- Put the pot in a warm, sunny area.
- Water the pot regularly so that the soil is moist but not wet.
- The seedlings can be transplanted when they are a few inches tall.