I was a ‘birder’ by age 12. I discovered their populations during my morning paper route which included homes at the end of my route, near the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Cliffs…stone abutments….huge boulders, woods, slopes, and torrents of water moving southward, noisily and threateningly. It was exciting to climb and sit and observe.
What more could a paper boy want having delivered his papers by 5:30 in the morning with nothing around him but birds and fox, trees, woods, and an angry river….at least in the Spring?
I explored. I learned some trees had different looks besides ‘elm’. They differed in their leaf patterns, shapes and sizes. I had to know their names…they had to have names…..and so, went to the Groveland Park Library to find out.
The name, Aralia spinosissima. sometimes named Aralia spinosa, wasn’t listed there. It arrived at the grounds where I now live about 35 years ago when I was in my 40s….and I had never heard of it until then.
I did study Latin in high school…..I chose the class without advice or pressure. I lucked out. Fewer learnings have taught me a greater collection of understanding in my lifetime…..in history, the world of plants, Bible studies….and my understandings of America, its language, and the western world.
I shall tell the story of Aralia spinosissima’s arrival to my property in 1976 or so in another report.
Its name tells us that it is an Aralia…..that it is related closely in its ‘being’ with these relatives, the Aralias….all of whom have similar genetic makeup ….such as Aralia racemosa, Minnesota’s native ‘spikenard’. But this Aralia is not racemosa, an herbaceous perennial, but is a ‘spinosissima’, a spiny woody perennial.
Its name in Latin means the most spiny spiny thing ever.
Aralia spinosissima (or Aralia spinosa) is well named. Even its leaves, double compound and three feet long, are spiny.
In my own grounds where it had set root, totally unbeknownst to me, and had grown among some French lilacs, its trunk was so spiny it shredded the skin off of my right arm when I reached passed it to weed where it touched me as I pulled my arm away from the task. I had assumed it was just another lilac trunk…..but where did it get its thorns? I asked myself staring at the bleeding.
Aralia spinosissima blooms in early September, late August at my grounds. It grows in full sun and, since its dramatic entrance to my world of plants, has spread to about six trunks which have reached fifteen feet in height….about its maximum size. It’s not a plant for limited spaces.
I have a landscape gardened grounds….about a half acre in all, with hundreds of varieties of plant material. The birds collect here in vast numbers starting late August lasting throughout much of October. These birds are busy preparing for their southward flights.
No plants on my grounds cause more frenzy among birds than my Aralia spinosissimas. They swarm their meals as if blood were spilled into a pond of pirranha, particularly over an hour or two after dawn.
The original bloom is a collection of dusty white florets in a hoop resembling a queen’s tiara, and held high at the top of its taller branches. As it ages going into September, it become slightly pink, and then decidedly pink. As the fruit develops at each floret, the color darkens to dark pink eventually reaching a lovely maroon…..when it announces it is ripe for the taking.
The uneaten fruit darkens to a dark wine/purple color when it drops for rodents to finish the feast.
The foliage, resembling Green Ash from a distance, turns a bright yellow as the fruit darkens.
It is one of my favorite plants. I can examine its floral show up close when looking out my second story windows. I wish I could give you an accurate account of the birds who visit. My eyes are too old to manage. In later October there will be a weekend visit of Cedar Waxwings…..en masse, which will attack the Aralias, get drunk, and wobble for a day or two and then they flock southward.
Robins do the same….and I do know that many of our native sparrows monkey around when the fruit is ripe, but they are small and the markings are less telltale.
Aralia spinosissima is a rare breed for common gossip. But one must allow it space.