Skip to Main Content

Breadcrumb

  1. Illinois DNR
  2. Outdoor Illinois

Devil's Walking Stick 

May Nature Notes: The Devil in the Forest 
By: Joe McFarland 
All of us could use a hand sometimes, especially while hiking in the forest without anything to pull us up those steep hillsides. It’s why small trees and saplings are always handy to grab when we’re almost there, leveraging ourselves ahead for that last step. Little trees are strong enough to hold our weight. But they’re small enough to fit our grasp. We honestly do them no harm by pulling.          

That’s precisely what makes the devilish, native Illinois plant called Aralia spinosa so despised by anyone tricked into accepting its offer of what turns out to be forbidden fruit. The main trunk of Aralia spinosa, aptly named the Devil’s Walking Stick, is heavily ornamented with all sizes and hellish variations of needle-sharp thorns protruding at different angles, poised to puncture any hiker’s grasp.

One might ask: Why would any hiker willingly grab such a devil? Location is everything. Plus, the fact we tend to trust little trees. The Devil’s Walking Stick always seems to grow exactly in the spots where grabbing a little sapling seems natural. The bushy, shrub-like trees can grow up to 30 feet tall. And they can grow anywhere in rich forest soils around Illinois. But, for some devilish reason, they favor our path in the forest, appearing precisely at our weaker moments when we are tempted to grab a tree for support.          

It really is a devil of a walking stick.