AppearanceDevil's club generally grows to 1 to 1.5 metres tall; however, instances exist of it reaching in excess of 5 metres in rainforest gullies. The spines are found along the upper and lower surfaces of veins of its leaves as well as the stems. The leaves are spirally arranged on the stems, simple, palmately lobed with 5-13 lobes, 20 to 40 centimetres across. The flowers are produced in dense umbels 10 to 20 centimetres diameter, each flower small, with five greenish-white petals. The fruit is a small red drupe 4 to 7 millimetres diameter.
The plant is covered with brittle yellow spines that break off easily if the plants are handled or disturbed, and the entire plant has been described as having a "primordial" appearance. Devil's club is very sensitive to human impact and does not reproduce quickly. The
plants are slow growing and take many years to reach seed bearing maturity, and predominately exist in dense, moist, old growth conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest.
HabitatThis species usually grows in moist, dense forest habitats, and is most abundant in old growth conifer forests. It is found from Southcentral Alaska to western Oregon and eastward to western Alberta and Montana. Disjunct native populations also occur over 1,500 kilometres away in Lake Superior on Isle Royale and Passage Island, Michigan and Porphyry Island and Slate Island, Ontario.
UsesNative Americans used the plant as medicine. The plant was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat adult-onset diabetes, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. Traditionally, it was and is still used to make paints. ''In vitro'' studies showed that extracts of Devil's Club inhibit tuberculosis microbes. Additionally, Devil's club has been seen to extend life expectancy and reduce leukemia burden in rats engrafted with acute myeloid leukemia.
The plant is used medicinally and ceremonially by the Tlingit and Haida people of Southeast Alaska. A piece of Devil's club hung over a doorway is said to ward off evil. The plant is harvested and used in a variety of ways, including poultices applied externally and ointments, however the consumption of an oral tea is most common in traditional settings. Some Tlingit disapprove of the commercialization of the plant as they see it as a violation of its sacred status.
Because Devil's club is related to American Ginseng, some think that the plant is an adaptogen. The plant has been harvested for this purpose and marketed widely as "Alaskan ginseng", which may damage populations of Devil's Club and its habitat. The genus ''Panax'' is exceptional among Araliaceae both morphologically and chemically. Other, even closely related plants with proven adaptogen effects, such as ''Eleutherococcus senticosus'' the "Siberian ginseng", are chemically dissimilar to ''Panax'' ginseng.
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