Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Devil's plant, anyone?

 Photo by pfly 
Do you have a devil plant in your neck of the woods? Plenty of thorny or otherwise disagreeable plants are tagged as various possessions of the devil--maybe you know devil's paintbrush, weed, claw, trumpet, or pincushion. Here in the Pacific Northwest, in moist woods and along streambanks, we've got devil's club, an impressive fortress of a plant that can grow up to 10 feet high. 

Spines up to half an inch long crowd its thick stems. Its pretty, maple-shaped leaves, which can grow to 15 inches across, wield additional, smaller spines. Even the undersides of the leaves are spiked. This plant is  seriously armed.

Despite all this--or maybe because of it--the plant had many uses among Native American tribes, some of which extend to present day. Shamans carved the plant's wood into powerful, protecting amulets, and built shelters of devil's club when they needed special protection. Fishing hooks and lures can be made from the wood; burnt stems mixed with grease make a reddish-rown face paint.

Devil's club is in the ginseng family, so it makes sense that the roots and green inner bark were especially important in making medicines. These were used by different tribes to treat a variety of ailments including diabetes, arthritis, rheumatism, tuberculosis, ulcers and other stomach troubles. Rather than avoiding this plant, Indians respected it and gathered it for its powerful medicine.

How about you? Have you had any experiences with a devil plant?


  1. Decades ago, a friend moved up from California and was thrilled by all the vegetation.  This plant with big leaves sprang up in the rear of her yard, and she just stood back in admiration and amazement and let it grow. Too polite to mention that she was harboring demon spawn, I eyed it askance, and said nothing.  The next year, it became mother of millions, and little thorny bastards were springing up all around it.  And, it turned out, she was allergic to the sap.  Guess who spent most of a Saturday in May wearing leather jacket and gloves, and wielding implements of destruction?  It was a sumbich to dig out!  I'm too old for that crap anymore, so now I make people exorcise their devils while still small.

  2. I don't know of any devil plants out here, but the worst is Russian invasive "tumbleweed." I've spent many days pulling them out of the ground, with gloves, only to have rashes on my arms and legs from the stuff.

  3. I remember seeing the formidable Devils Club on various forest hikes in my younger days.  I always gave it a wide berth and can't imagine the hardihood of those Indian shamans getting close enough to not only harvest it but to subdue it into medicines and construction projects!  But it does remind me of an old name for Morning Glory is "Devil's Guts." 

  4. hmmmm...looks familiar.

  5. Fascinating.  I've seen it while hiking and wondered what it was and why it evolved to defend itself so fiercely.  Funny how one person's dandelion is another person's weed.

  6. Wicked stuff!