Devil’s Club Decorates Old Growth Forests in Late Summer

Dev­il’s club or dev­il’s walk­ing stick is a large shrub native to the cool moist conifer forests.  It is found from  Alas­ka to west­ern Ore­gon and east­ward to west­ern Alber­ta and Mon­tana.

Devil's Club

Dev­il’s club usu­al­ly grows in moist, dense for­est habi­tats, and is most abun­dant in old growth conifer forests.

This native shrub always catch­es my eye in the late sum­mer.  Those clus­ters of showy red berries remind me of Christ­mas.   I’ve found dev­il’s club along shad­ed streams around Salem and high up in the Cas­cades above Pamil­ia Lake and in many places in between.  If it did­n’t require moist, cool con­di­tions, I’d be tempt­ed to try to grow Dev­il’s club in my gar­den.

Appearance

Dev­il’s club gen­er­al­ly grows up to about 5 ft  tall but I’ve seen it reach more than 10 of 15 feet tall in old growth forests above Detroit Lake.

The large palmate leaves are about the size and shape of my out­stretched hand and the low­er veins and stems are clad in spines.  I’ve nev­er test­ed them, but the guides say the spines are brit­tle and break off eas­i­ly.

The dense spines, height and the way the leaves grow almost par­al­lel to the ground give the entire plant an almost  “pri­mor­dial” appear­ance.

The plants are slow grow­ing and take many years to reach seed bear­ing matu­ri­ty.

Uses

Native Amer­i­cans used the plant both as food and med­i­cine. The plant was tra­di­tion­al­ly used by Native Amer­i­cans to make paints, and to treat  a vari­ety of tumors.   The plant is har­vest­ed and used in a vari­ety of ways, includ­ing lip balms, oint­ments, and herbal teas.   Unfor­tu­nate­ly, dev­il’s club is slow grow­ing and there­fore sen­si­tive to human dis­tur­bance.  It may take years to recov­er so be gen­tle with dev­il’s club if you come across it on your next out­ing.

 

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