Oplopanax Devil’s Club: Devil’s Club Plant Information And Growing Conditions

Oplopanax Devil’s Club: Devil’s Club Plant Information And Growing Conditions

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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Devil’s club is a ferocious Pacific Northwest native plant. With its wicked spines and impressive height, it makes an interesting conversation point in the garden and as part of a natural landscape. Oplopanax devil’s club is perfect for shady areas of the garden where soil is nitrogen rich and moist. If you are looking for a unique, but native specimen, a devil’s club growing in your garden will provide a wonderful surprise and many seasons of interest.

Devil’s Club Information

Devil’s club plant (Oplopanax horridus) is a historical medicinal and herbal plant used for centuries by First Nations people. It is also known as devil’s walking stick or bear’s claw.

Oplopanax devil’s club is found from Alaska down through the western-most Canadian provinces and into Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It is also found in the Great Lakes area. The plant is well armored, with spines of many different sizes decorating the stems and even undersides of leaves.

Leaves are reminiscent of maples and the plant can grow 3 to 9 feet (0.9-2.7 m.) in height. The plant also produces panicles of white flowers which become thick clusters of red berries, favored by bears and other wild animals.

Devil’s Club Plant Uses

Devil’s club has medicinal properties, but it’s also been known to be used for fishing lures, charcoal, and to make tattoo ink. Other uses include deodorant and lice control.

No devil’s club information would be complete without mentioning some of its traditional uses. Tribal medicine indicates that the plant was used to treat colds, arthritis, digestive tract issues, ulcers, and even diabetes. It was also used to combat tuberculosis and as a purgative.

Is devil’s club poisonous? All the literature that I have read states it is used as a medicine but no mention is made of its toxicity. The plant is certainly safe to have in the landscape, but it does have fairly wicked spines, so ensure it is out of the reach of small children and pets.

Outside of its medicinal uses, devil’s club was thought to have spiritual powers. Sticks of it were used to ward off evil spirits.

Devil’s Club Growing Tips

To enjoy this amazing plant in your garden, find it in a native garden center. Never harvest wild plants from nature.

Choose a shady to semi-shady location where drainage is good but there is plenty of organic material to keep moisture in the soil. Mulch around the plant after installation. Keep the plant moderately moist but not soggy.

Devil’s club doesn’t need much fertilizing, but adding some well-rotted compost or leaf litter around the root zone will enhance its health.

Cut off any damaged or dead leaves as they occur. This cousin of wild ginger will drop leaves after a cold snap, but new ones form in early spring. Enjoy the strange architecture of the naked plant but be careful of those stinging spines!

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Range map of devil's club. States are colored green where the species may be found.

Devil's club leaves and stem. Photo by Darren Strenge.

Devil's club is armed to the teeth. Photo by Darren Strenge.

Devil's club produces abundant berries in the mid-summer months. Photo by R.A. Howard.

Devil's club plant. Photo by Mary Stensvold.

Health Benefits

Many of the benefits of devil's claw are attributed to a compound known as harpagoside that is believed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.

The plant is commonly used to treat rheumatic conditions affecting the joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles. These include back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendinitis. Others believe that it can treat fibromyalgia, sciatica, nerve pain, gout, and symptoms of Lyme disease.

Infusions of the dried root are sometimes used to ease indigestion and stimulate appetite. An ointment made from the root can be applied to the skin to help heal sores, ulcers, and boils.

While robust evidence of its effects is sorely lacking, a number of smaller studies have suggested that devil's claw may be highly effective in certain situations. Here are some of the key findings:


In recent years, devil's claw extract has shown promise in alleviating the symptoms of osteoarthritis ("wear-and-tear arthritis").

An early study published in the journal Joint Bone Spine reported that a devil's claw extract containing 60 milligrams of harpagoside was able to relieve pain, improve mobility, and reduce the need for backup drugs in 61 people with knee or hip arthritis.

A 2013 review of studies in Phytochemistry further supported these claims, suggesting that the routine use of devil's claw could reduce osteoarthritic pain by around 60 percent compared to a placebo.  

Back Pain

A systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews examined previously published trials on the use of herbs for non-specific low back pain.  

In evaluating 14 randomized controlled trials, the researchers concluded that devil's claw extract (containing 50 to 100 milligrams of harpagoside) was superior to a placebo in providing short-term relief of lower back pain.

In terms of analgesic effect, the extract was seen to be roughly equivalent to a 12.5-milligram dose of Vioxx (rofecoxib). Despite the positive findings, the researchers stated that the quality of studies was moderate at best.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints of the body.

Unlike osteoarthritis, in which inflammatory substances such as interleukin 6 (IL-6) trigger symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis is associated with immune proteins called autoantibodies. These autoantibodies direct the body's own defenses to target the joints, causing acute pain and inflammation.

While devil's claw appears to inhibit the production of IL-6, making it effective in people with osteoarthritis, its mechanism of action makes it only nominally effective in reversing the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.


Devil's Club is found throughout the park. The plant is valued by the Tlingit people for its medicinal properties.

The vegetation in Sitka National Historical Park is a coastal temperate rainforest typical of southeast Alaska. Western hemlock closed-canopy forest type is found on all the stable landforms, including most of the park. Blueberry and devil's club dominate the shrub layer. Occasional Sitka spruce are found in the overstory, frequently taller than the hemlocks. Much of the park is second-growth hemlock (100-125 years in age) that shows an overstory of relatively uniform height. In areas where the canopy has been opened through blowdown of trees, there is a well-developed shrub understory. Under the denser canopies there are fewer shrubs and limited forbs and ferns. Learn more about the park ecosystems.

Extensive blowdowns may also result in a dense canopy as is the case northwest of the fort site. This area was hit by an intense wind storm in 1967. A dense even-aged stand of young hemlocks have grown up, greatly reducing sunlight penetration to the forest floor.

The largest trees are in the forest in the northeast corner of the park. This forest exhibits old-growth characteristics such as multiple canopy layers, trees of varying diameters, snags (dead standing trees), and woody debris. One Sitka spruce is close to 500 years of age. Old cut stumps in this area suggest that selective logging may have been practiced here in the past.

The Spotted Coralroot orchid can be seen blooming in the park in early summer.

The Sitka spruce forest type is found on relatively unstable landforms such as the floodplain on the east side of the Indian River, along the trail in low areas with greater soil water movement. It is also found near the Russian Memorial and near an old asphalt plant site. This is a successional community that is likely to be gradually replaced by hemlock. It is open-canopied with dense devil's club and salmonberry shrub layer.

Rapidly growing open-canopy red alder stands are on both sides of the river, where they tolerate subsurface flooding and drainage conditions. Under the even height alder overstory are salmonberry shrubs and fairly well-developed forb layers. Alder communities are typically succeeded by spruce unless disturbance is extensive or repetitive. An alder stand also exists in the disturbed area southeast of the Russian Memorial.

Nonforested areas in the park are the estuary, wetlands, beach fringe, and historic Tlingit fort site, which is a maintained grass opening enclosed by the surrounding forest. The estuary is dominated by salt-tolerant, flood-tolerant plants. The beach fringe and the wetlands along the shoreline also are dominated by salt- and flood-tolerant species. A beach meadow that lies in the south-western section of the park is transitional between beach and forest. In the lowest, most frequently flooded area is a grass and umbel meadow that is able to tolerate salt and flooding during extreme high tides and storm tides. Red alder, spruce, and salmonberry have colonized slightly higher areas adjacent to the meadow.

A recent survey inventoried over 100 nonvascular plants (bryophytes and ferns). There is also a high diversity of lichens and mushrooms in the park.

Water Requirements

Devil’s ivy is highly drought-tolerant, so don’t fret if your note to yourself to water the plants slips your mind for several weeks. While the plant is actively growing, water houseplants deeply until it runs from the bottom drainage holes approximately once a week or when the top inch or two of soil feels dry. During winter, cut back on watering to about once every other week. Watering outdoor plants once a week is sufficient, but reduce the frequency to once every two weeks in winter.

Steps to stopping your puppy mouthing

  • Dogs repeat behaviours they find rewarding – a puppy will find mouthing rewarding, and particularly so whilst they are learning about the world around them and whilst they are teething
  • The more you yelp, tell them off, or quickly move your limb, or clothing away, or push the dog off – the more likely they are to think the game is on, and enjoy it – so it’s even more rewarding, and therefore even more likely to be repeated
  • Withdrawing from the puppy is much more likely to get the right message across, but it's not always easy to do that with a puppy hanging on to the bottom of your trousers
  • Turn your face away to blank the puppy, tuck your limbs in as much as possible and the puppy may stop. If that doesn’t work, stand up and/or walk away. You may even have to walk out of the room for a few seconds
  • Always better to be one step ahead with your puppy. Work out when they are likely to mouth and provide them with something that they can mouth on – so if they are running towards you with your trouser legs on their mind, interact with them with their favourite tuggy or chewing toy before they get to your trousers. Or have a treat ready so that you can get their attention and ask for a behaviour they know, before rewarding them with it. Or in an emergency, scatter a handful of treats on the floor to get your puppy to change thought processes and actions. (If treats are used – please remember to take them out of your dog’s daily food rations, and grade them according to your dog’s stage of learning, and/or the environment)
  • Also think about the clothing that you’re wearing. Things that are loose and inclined to flap are likely to be more enticing to the puppy
  • Handling and grooming your puppy are times that will often lead to mouthing, so whilst they are learning to accept being handled and groomed, keep sessions short and give them something to occupy their mouths like a small stuffed kong. Using a second family member can be invaluable – getting them to entertain the head end, whilst you do the grooming. Also, pick times of day when your puppy is likely to be quieter and just before they are ready for a nap
  • Make sure that you provide your puppy with lots of safe toys for them to chew and change them regularly to keep it interesting – this will give them an outlet for this behaviour, and may save your furniture being the subject of unwanted interest!

Please note: there are many different ways to train your dog. This is just one method of teaching. If you are ever in doubt, please seek professional advice.

For more information and advice, you can find training classes with The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme , browse our full list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you.

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