Aralia spinosa, or Devils walking stick, has very large, dissected, tropical-looking leaves that give it almost a palm-like appearance. Its range covers primarily the southeastern United States:
It produces very large clusters of small white flowers in mid to late summer in North Carolina (July – September). These flowers are highly attractive to a variety of insects that can be considered beneficial: bees (pollinators), predatory wasps (help with natural control of insect pests), and butterflies (aesthetically pleasing). I especially like visiting the plant in the mid-afternoon because in full bloom it is often covered in large butterflies like tiger, black, and spicebush swallowtails as well as monarchs. The photo below gives some idea of how this looks.
I like plants that perform more than one ecological function, and Aralia spinosa fits that bill. Apart from feeding beneficial insects in the summer, the berries it produces in the fall are also a valuable food source for birds. This perennial plant does have some downsides though, that may help to explain its limited horticultural use. It is very spiny along both stems and leaves, so needs to be handled with care. Also, it will spread some through rhizomes. Unless they are cut back, individual plants can grow into small trees up to about 30 feet tall. I deal with removal of unwanted specimens using gloves, long-handled loppers, and a separate brush pile for spiny plant material such as Aralia or blackberry. I’ve found the best location for this plant is along a tree line or forest edge where it can be contained by mowing and forest shade.
Some Links For More Information:
Habitat for Beneficial Insects http://www4.ncsu.edu/~dorr/Habitat_Information/Introduction/why_provide_habitat.html
Aralia spinosa Horticultural Information
Going Native - urban landscaping for wildlife with native plants