Sunday, July 20, 2014

Giant Flower, At Last

About 5 or 6 years ago I went to a GNPS workday at a restoration site and one of the leaders brought some free plants to give away. I took a tiny, 4-inch woody plant known as devil’s walkingstick (Aralia spinosa). People warned me not to take it but I knew that it would be beautiful and perfect for the tropical feel around our swimming pool.

Aralia spinosa flowers at terminal ends
It is native to my area and has a huge compound leaf. When it blooms, it creates a giant inflorescence of tiny flowers (technically not a single flower despite the name of this post) that towers over perennials and other shrubs. Pollinators love the plant and swarm the numerous flowers. 

Once pollinated, each flower turns into a small purple berry – a feast for the birds. You can see a picture of the berries here. Its bi-pinnately (twice divided) compound leaves are the largest leaves of any native continental U.S. plant - up to six feet long in ideal conditions according to Floridata.
Aralia spinosa - a great tropical accent plant
So why would anyone steer me away from this wonderful plant? Well, it can spread by runners. So far mine has not popped up a single clone, but I know people that have fought its march across their landscape. I suspect that once it starts to sucker then it won’t stop.

I’m sure the berries, when distributed by wildlife, create new plants. I have seen it on GNPS rescue sites, scattered here and there, and appearing to be less of a suckering situation in that case and more a case of seedlings.

The first time that I saw it bloom was on the streamside near the arena at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. It is appropriate then to find mine blooming for the first time during the same week thatthe conference occurs this year. As I left for the conference on Wednesday, the first flowers opened and I spied a bee circling the flower.

I returned on Saturday, eager to photograph the visiting insects. Unfortunately, a heavy downpour on Friday night caused the flower to be so heavy that the plant was bent over at the top. By Saturday afternoon the weight proved too much and the twig supporting the flower snapped.

Of course I debated continuing with this post, but I decided it is part of life in the garden. If I'm lucky, enough tissue is still connected to keep the flower alive for a little longer, supporting a few insects. It is way too tall for me to deal with in terms of pruning it off anyway.

I look forward to next year's flower show now that the plant is mature enough to flower.


  1. I LOVED mine, planted with the same warnings. Never seen so many bees on the flowers--so many birds devour the fermenting fruit. I hate to say it, but I finally cut it down as it was coming up in so many places from runners...a long way across the yard, and still is after about 5 years. Wish I had a place to just let it grow as much as it wanted--might need a couple of acres for that. If it just behaved a little better!