How to Grow Devil’s Club in Your Backyard

How to Grow Devil’s Club in Your Backyard

What is Devil’s Club?

Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) is a spiny shrub native to the Pacific Northwest region of North America. It is an understory plant that thrives in moist forests and along streams. Devil’s Club gets its name from its sharp spines that cover the stems, underside of leaves, and even the flower and berry clusters. Once you get past the intimidating spines, it has huge, dramatic leaves and produces scented flower clusters that attract pollinators.

Some key facts about Devil’s Club:

  • Native habitat: Cool, moist forests from Alaska to northern California, mainly in riparian zones
  • Growth habit: Multi-stemmed shrub reaching 3-10 feet tall
  • Flowers: Small, white flowers borne in showy, fragrant clusters in summer
  • Fruit: Bright red berries ripen in late summer/fall
  • Leaves: Large, palmately lobed leaves up to 12 inches wide
  • Spines: Cover stems, leaf undersides, flowers and fruits
  • Hardiness: USDA zones 3-7

Devil’s Club has a long history of use by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest for medicinal and cultural purposes. Today it is gaining popularity as a unique, albeit challenging, ornamental plant.

Is Devil’s Club Suitable for Backyard Growing?

Devil’s Club is not an easy plant to grow, but it can be a fun challenge for an adventurous gardener. Here are some key considerations about growing Devil’s Club in your backyard:

  • Site selection: It requires consistently cool, moist soil and thrives in part to full shade. Poor drainage will kill it.
  • Soil: Rich, humus-y, moderately acidic soil is ideal. Amend native soil with compost.
  • Water: Keep soil moist but not saturated. Mulch to conserve moisture.
  • Hardiness: Best suited to USDA zones 3-7. Needs winter chill.
  • Maintenance: Remove old stems annually. Watch for pests like spider mites.
  • Caution: Wear protective clothing when handling – those spines are no joke!

If you can provide the right growing conditions, Devil’s Club can add unique texture and drama to a woodland garden or shade border. Just be prepared to give it some special care and treat those nasty spines with respect!

Acquiring Devil’s Club Plants or Seeds

Here are some options for obtaining Devil’s Club to grow:

  • Purchase plants: Check with native plant nurseries in your region. Limited availability.
  • Mail order: Online native plant nurseries may carry Devil’s Club plants or seeds.
  • Local collection: In some areas you may be able to collect seeds or cuttings legally. Check regulations.
  • Seed propagation: Start seeds indoors in late winter. Sear seeds to break dormancy.
  • Cuttings: Take cuttings in summer. Wear protection when handling. Root cuttings in perlite/peat mix.

When collecting wild plants or seeds make sure you are not impacting native populations. Only collect sustainably and legally. Purchasing nursery-grown plants or ethically wild-collected seeds are good alternatives.

How to Plant and Grow Devil’s Club

Here is a summary of tips for successfully growing Devil’s Club:

Site Selection

  • Select a site with rich, humus-y soil and full to partial shade.
  • Ensure the soil stays consistently moist. Poor drainage will kill Devil’s Club.
  • Mimic its native riparian habitat with plenty of organic matter worked into the soil.

Planting

  • Plant in early spring after the last frost.
  • Space plants 3-4 feet apart. They will form colonies and fill in over time.
  • Dig a wide hole and amend with compost. Spread roots out evenly when planting.
  • Water well after planting and mulch around plants.

Care

  • Water regularly during dry periods to keep soil moist but not waterlogged.
  • Mulch annually with compost or bark chips to retain soil moisture.
  • Fertilize with compost tea or fish emulsion in spring.
  • Prune out old stems annually to encourage new growth.
  • Watch for pests like spider mites and prune affected parts.

Winter Care

  • Devil’s Club dies back to the ground each winter. Cut stems to the ground in fall.
  • Mulch over the roots with leaves or bark chips to insulate.
  • Avoid mulching with evergreen boughs or straw, which can harbor pests.

With its dramatic foliage and unique form, Devil’s Club can make a fun addition to a woodland or native plant garden in the right location. Just be ready to give it special care and watch out for those nasty spines!

Uses for Devil’s Club Plants

In addition to its ornamental qualities, Devil’s Club has a number of traditional uses:

  • The bark and roots are used in herbal medicine by indigenous peoples.
  • The bark can be used to make baskets and tool handles.
  • Young shoots are edible and can be cooked and eaten.
  • All parts of the plant yield a yellow dye.
  • The spines can be used as fish hooks or pins.

However, Devil’s Club should be harvested sustainably and only for personal use. Over-harvesting from wild populations is a concern today. By growing your own Devil’s Club, you can harvest material for crafts, medicine, and even food without impacting native plants.

The Benefits and Challenges of Growing Devil’s Club

Benefits of growing Devil’s Club include:

  • Unique and dramatic addition to native or woodland gardens
  • Fun challenge for adventurous gardeners
  • Ability to harvest material for crafts and medicine
  • Supporting native habitats by growing your own plants

Challenges of growing Devil’s Club:

  • Needs very specific growing conditions
  • Can be difficult to source plants and seeds
  • Handling requires protective clothing due to spines
  • Pruning and care must be done carefully
  • Some pest and disease issues require maintenance

For the patient gardener willing to give it some special care, Devil’s Club can be a great conversation piece and unique addition to the backyard landscape. Just be sure you have the right growing conditions and arm yourself with good gloves before handling those nasty spines!