The Bug Geek

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Tag Archives: Prickly Ash

EVIL plant is…kind of pretty, actually.

When Steve over at Blue Jay Barrens told me that the thorny plant I’d spent so much time cursing was actually the preferred host of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly, I decided that maybe it wasn’t such an evil plant after all.  Then, when he posted an image of the springtime blooms of the Prickly Ash, I decided that it was actually kind of pretty, for all its thorniness.   

Now, Steve’s lovely picture post was dated April 10th.  At that time, my Prickly Ash trees still had small, tight buds which had no intention whatsoever of revealing their softer, prettier side.   I’ve been diligently returning to several stands of Prickly Ash every other day or so since then, hoping to see the blooms first hand.

Finally!  Over two weeks later than at the Barrens, but still lovely:

Although the Giant Swallowtail is only an occasional visitor to my neck of the woods, I’ll still keep an eye out for it.  Butterflies are still scarce here; I spotted an Admiral on the weekend, but otherwise have only seen the odd friendly Pieris sp. White and a handful of flighty and elusive Azures (Celastrina sp).


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.

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