Botanical Wednesday: It’s been a long time if I’m missing Oplopanax horridus

We had a blizzard this week. It’s bitterly cold right now. I was trying hard to think of good reasons to have left the Pacific Northwest, and this is about the only thing I came up with: Devil’s Club.

They’re big. They’re prickly-spiky-thorny. They’re evil. You did not go blindly charging through the lush green brush in the woods unless you wanted to risk tangling with knives and needles.

I might be willing to trade sub-zero snowstorms for Devil’s Club, though.


  1. microraptor says

    Hey, PZ, it’s been in the 60s for weeks in Oregon.

    And we’re at like 25% of normal precipitation for the rain-year.

    This summer is going to suck.

  2. microraptor says

    But if it would make you feel better, I’d be happy to mail you a box of poison oak leaves in August.

  3. Eric O says

    Ugh, this stuff.

    I work outdoors in northern British Columhia and I had to deal with devil’s club throughout much of the summer. My worst day was when I ripped my jeans while climbing over some deadfall. Not that jeans do much to keep those thorns out, but it’s a lot less pleasant walking through a patch of devil’s club with exposed skin. I had a pretty impressive rash all over my left thigh for about a week after that.

    Also, I don’t know how high it grows where you lived, but I was coming across stalks that were taller than me, and I’m 6’2. If Hell existed, that’s the sort of flora I’d expect when I inevitably wind up there.

  4. JohnnieCanuck says

    My vote for seriously nasty goes to Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum. Not in the same category for physical damage as Devil’s Club, but its sap is phytophototoxic because of furanocoumarins. In the presence of sunlight, it causes intense itching and blistering and will leave long lasting dark scars. Getting a small amount of the sap in the eyes will cause temporary or permanent blindness. On the other hand, beekeepers like it.

    I spotted one stalk growing along the side of the road here in the Pacific Southwest (of Canada). It looked like the homeowner had used a weed wacker around it. Shudder.

  5. says

    Yeah, Stinging Tree is not to be trifled with. Even if you happen to be carrying a real life trifle. The fact that we live alongside such a tree and don’t daily shit our pants is yet another reason that all us Aussies are just the most brave, tough and terrific people that ever existed in the history of the world…

  6. says

    Btw, sundoga (#7), that wiki mentions the Atherton Tablelands. I’m living there right now, living the good life in a dead-end country town known for…dairy, I guess, but that’s really produced the next town over…Just thought it was a surprising coincidence, finding a link mentioning such a small Australian town on Pharyngula.

  7. Chelydra says

    Northwest? The nearest population of Oplopanax is to your northEAST, only 50 miles from the Minnesota border. The species is disjunct on islands in Lake Superior.

    @Mike Mason – your warning came too late I’m afraid.

  8. caseloweraz says

    Sundoga: I’ll trade Devil’s Club for the Stinging Tree any day of the month.

    Wow! That sounds like something out of Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld — a novel noteworthy for its ingeniously lethal beasties and plants.

  9. generallerong says

    Makes a beautiful light wood when peeled. I keep as many in my yard as are willing to grow. Awesome plants.

  10. steve1 says

    I just want to mention the Manchineel tree one of the world’s most dangerous trees. It is endangered here in Florida but it lives in the Caribbean too. There are stories of Native Americans tying captives to the tree for a slow miserable death. Also Ponce De Leon probably died of a Manchineel poisoned arrow.

  11. Chelydra says

    any place that has both sub-zero winters and Devil’s Club must be a real hellhole

    Heh, or a national park. Admittedly they do close it for the entire winter…

  12. Numenaster says

    Yeah, skunk cabbage doesn’t really measure up as a nuisance plant. Even the Himalayan blackberries have their good points. Not only can I make a pie after 30 minutes harvesting in the back yard, but also it makes native midwesterners ask if we have trouble with the bears in my town. Snerk. I live within earshot of I-5 at the edge of the most populated part of Oregon. No, no bear issues.

  13. Rich Woods says

    Seconding JohnnieCanuck’s vote for the evil, evil giant hogweed. I had a near encounter with the vicious neo-triffid when I was on a camping holiday at the age of twelve; my best mate wasn’t so lucky. He had to spend a night in hospital with his arms and chest plastered with a thick ointment, and the next two days back at camp covered up while the rest of us kayaked up and down the river. I’ve never seen a rash that bad; it was more like blistered burns.

  14. Rich Woods says

    Damn. I’ve just read that giant hogweed was introduced to the UK as an ornamental plant. Introduced by a sadist, most like.

  15. Bruce Keeler says

    I love the Latin name. It sounds like someone just stuck a ‘-us’ on the end of horrid to make it sound Latinish. But then I looked up the etymology of ‘horrid’ and sure enough it comes from the Latin ‘horridus’, meaning ‘rough, bristling’. So I learned something today – YAY! Never a dull moment around here.

  16. Numenaster says

    Yup, it’s why “horripilation” is a word that exists. It means “hairs standing up”, as those on your arms do when you see a particularly apt fisking of creationist nonsense.

  17. Bruce Keeler says

    @sundoga, Yipes, just read that wikipedia entry. Stinging Tree, I thought. Sounds a bit like the stinging nettles that caused me so much grief in my youth. But no, stinging tree sounds way, way worse.

    Yet more evidence that God hates Australia.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Stinging Tree, I thought. Sounds a bit like the stinging nettles that caused me so much grief in my youth.

    That’s what it is; it’s just a species that grows bigger.

    I’ve been told “it won’t kill you, but you’ll wish it had”…