A devil of a stick

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pictured here is a small tree with lightweight, soft, brittle wood. It is a type of Aralia, which includes more than 250 known species world wide. Scientific records on many of these species remain to be written as documentation remains difficult and uncertain even today.

Locally known as "the devil's walking stick," this little tree will never grow into more than a slender sapling 50 feet tall. The trunk is covered with hundreds of sharp, solitary, curved thorns.

This is a deciduous tree, and each autumn it will drop its leaves. A surprising fact about the devil's walking stick is that it boasts the largest leaves of any tree in the continental United States. Palmlike in appearance, its leaves are compound, double- and sometimes even triple-jointed with many prickled leaflets. A single compound leaf may reach over three feet long and two feet wide.

If ever you unfortunately grab hold of this little tree, you will likely be left with the sharp tip of one or more spines embedded in your hand. I know from experience. It's just one of the lessons Mother Nature can teach. Be careful.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell.

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