There is no other tree that makes as grand a statement as Devil’s Walking Stick, which is perhaps the most unique and one of the rarest trees native to Jefferson County and Ohio.
The common name of Devil’s Walking Stick comes from the plethora of thorns that are born on the tree and the fact that in the winter when its leaves drop it appears to look like a stick protruding out of the ground. (Note – when purchasing from the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District Native Tree sale it may still be in its leafless form as they bud out late.) This tree is also special as it has the largest leaves of any plant in North America. However, don’t let the thorns and leaf size scare you. The thorns provide visually magnificent displays unlike any other plant and create great winter interest and habitat for birds and butterflies. The leaves appear at the top of the stems and are compound, bi- and tri-pinnate in style and measure 3-4 feet in length, but appear to be smaller. The tree’s appearance is often described as palm tree-like. The texture and depth of this plant on the landscape is invaluable.
The true showstopper of devil’s walking stick is the flower. These white flowers borne in the middle of summer are three to four feet in length and fill the area with a strong lemony smell. The flowers give way to a small berry-like drupe that is craved by wildlife.
The Mingo people of Jefferson County used Devil’s Walking Stick for a variety of purposes. They planted the tree around gardens and fruit trees to prevent browsing by livestock, and also situated them around the perimeter of their camp to prevent surprise attacks. The flowers and fruit were used for trade and decoration. In 1688, the trees were collected and sent to Europe for the landscape trade as they were prized for their prickly stems, large showy and aromatic flowers and distinctive fall color. In the Civil War, extracts of the plant were used to treat wounds as the extract is antimicrobial.
The tree is a host plant for 4 species of butterflies and moths and attracts 12 different genera of birds.■