Devil's Walking Stick
At the southernmost extent of its range I found a colony of Devil's Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) thriving between I-4 and 17-92 on the River-2-Sea-Loop Trail in Debary. Pretty amazing to find anything thriving in here as the trial is being squeezed by development.
Aralia spinosa is an aromatic deciduous shrub or small tree growing 6-26 feet tall.
One look at this plant will show you how it earned its common name of devil's walking stick. Vicious spines cover the stem and other areas of the plant, warning all to stay away.
There are a number of juvenile members of this colony spread around the main A. spinosa trees. Its not clear if these are rhizomatous or separate individual plants, however, this species perennates by rhizomes producing ramets. Ramets are distinct plants but are genetically identical to their progenitor. So in this colony there is likely a single parent plant.
The stems tend to remain unbranched until the first terminal inflorescences (below) are produced at an average age of 3.5 years.
First year ramets produce abundant prickles on the stems and leaves of first-year ramets.
Devil's Walking Stick prefers rich moist soils and is often found at the edges of streams, in thickets and shrub bays. Here, the plant thrives in the flood plain of the St. Johns River which is muck-rich but rarely completely flooded.
Devil's Walkingstick is shade intolerant but here it seems to thrive in partial sun under a canopy of live oak.
Insects harvest pollen and nectar from the flowers of devil's walkingstick. The fruits are used as food by many birds and other frugivores, including black bear.
The bark, roots, and berries of devil's walkingstick have been used for medicinal purposes, both by Native Americans and European settlers.
The mature plants make a nice ornamental that would do well in a sunny Central Florida garden location.
Also found along this section of trail are several stands of Late Boneset (Eupatorium serotinum).
The Devil's Walking Stick grove can be found northeast of this bridge on the Pat Northey section of the River 2 Sea Loop Trail in Volusia County. Enter at the Lake Monroe Boat Ramp trailhead.