Oplopanax Devil’s Club: Devil’s Club Plant Information And Growing Conditions

devils club
Image by Walter Siegmund

By Bonnie L. Grant

Devil’s club is a ferocious Pacific Northwest native plant. It makes an interesting conversation point in the garden as part of a natural landscape, with wicked spines and impressive height. Oplopanax devil’s club is perfect for shady areas of the garden where soil is nitrogen rich and moist. If you are looking for a unique, but native specimen, a devil’s club growing in your garden will provide a wonderful surprise and many seasons of interest.

Devil’s Club Information

Devil’s club plant (Oplopanax horridus) is a historical medicinal and herbal plant used for centuries by First Nations people. It is also known as devil’s walking stick or bear’s claw.

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Oplopanax devil’s club is found from Alaska down to the northern-most Canadian states and into Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It is also found in the Great Lakes area. The plant is well armored with spines of many different sizes decorating the stems and even undersides of leaves.

Leaves are reminiscent of maples and the plant can grow 3 to 9 feet in height. The plant also produces panicles of white flowers which become thick clusters of red berries, favored by bears and other wild animals.

Devil’s Club Plant Uses

As already mentioned, it has medicinal properties but it has also been used for fishing lures, charcoal and to make tattoo ink. Other uses include deodorant and lice control.

No devil’s club information would be complete without mentioning some of its traditional uses. Tribal medicine indicates that the plant was used to treat colds, arthritis, digestive tract issues, ulcers, and even diabetes. It was also used to combat tuberculosis and as a purgative.

Is devil’s club poisonous? All of the literature that I have read states it is used as a medicine but no mention is made of its toxicity. The plant is certainly safe to have in the landscape, but it does have fairly wicked spines so ensure it is out of the reach of small children and pets.

Outside of its medicinal uses, devil’s club was thought to have spiritual powers. Sticks of it were used to ward off evil spirits.

Devil’s Club Growing Tips

To enjoy this amazing plant in your garden, find it in a native garden center. Never harvest wild plants from nature.

Choose a shady to semi-shady location where drainage is good but there is plenty of organic material to keep moisture in the soil. Mulch around the plant after installation. Keep the plant moderately moist but not soggy.

Devil’s club doesn’t need much fertilizing but adding some well-rotted compost or leaf litter around the root zone will enhance its health.

Cut off any damaged or dead leaves as they occur. This cousin of wild ginger will drop leaves after a cold snap, but new ones form in early spring. Enjoy the strange architecture of the naked plant but be careful of those stinging spines!

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