The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.


I had forgotten that this little bugger lurked in my woods; probably because I seem to instinctively steer clear of it.  But the woods seem so open and passable in the absence of leaves so I’m wandering all the heck over the place these days.  I am therefore wandering right into thick patches of EVIL:


Those are some substantial, wicked-sharp, bastardly thorns right there, my friends.  

Prickly ash

I have an admittedly lazy habit of lumping all spikey-type forest plants into “Raspberry” in my head, as I’m sure I did for these during the summer months when our encounters consisted of  “OW! Expletive!” and me turning to move in the opposite direction.  But now, having paused to look closer, I realize that they are far more substantial plants.  They grow in dense patches, and I found a few close to 8 feet tall.  Each node has a pair of strong, triangular thorns.  This time of year, the buds are reddish and clearly visible above the leaf scars.

Bud over leaf scar, and more thorns.

I’ve identified the bastard-plant as Prickly Ash (Common Prickly Ash, Northern Prickly Ash), Xanthoxylum americanum.   They’re not true ashes (they’re members of the Rutaceae Family), but they have ash-like compound leaves, which is likely how they got the name.

In walking through a small stand of plants no more than 4 feet high, my forearms were ripped to shreds , right through the light jacket I was wearing.  My small mugsly dog, who is nearly naked with only guard hairs and no protective undercoat, has also been ripped to shreds (although she is not complaining about it nearly as much as I am).  I also managed to simultaneously embed several thorns in both my palms and my bottom in one fell swoop; I lost my balance when an ice-bound log I was attempting to roll suddenly gave way.  I landed on one plant and made the mistake of grabbing another to try to keep myself from falling.    Ow.

6 responses to “EVIL plant of GREAT EVIL

  1. Steve Willson March 28, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    I’ve had similar encounters with Prickly Ash, but I encourage its growth here because it’s the host plant for the Giant Swallowtail. I love those big butterflies. I’m not sure how far north they get.

    • TGIQ March 28, 2010 at 9:42 AM

      The Giant Swallowtail’s range in Ontario is mostly limited to the southwest, but there are some scattered reports of them in Ottawa and Montreal, Quebec. I suppose it’s possible to see one here, then, but unlikely. We do get Black and Canadian Swallowtails, but I don’t beleive Prickly Ash are hosts…I’ll have to keep a watch out this summer.

  2. jason March 29, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Ouch! Falling on one and grabbing another. Yes, that seems painful. (And oh how I laughed at “OW! Expletive!”… Sounds like a phrase I’ve uttered a time or two–and will utter again.)

    We don’t have this species down here, though we do have various evil cousins with the same tendency to stab first and ask questions never. Very mean of them.

  3. Pingback: EVIL plant is…kind of pretty, actually. « Fall To Climb

  4. Pingback: Sometimes poop happens if you’re persistent. | The Bug Geek

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