Plants at Blithewold

by Caroline Brown

Last week I finally made it down to Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, and Arboretum in Bristol, RI. Blithewold is a garden estate with a dozen different gardens and some fabulous specimen trees (which I’ll write more about later in the week). Today I wanted to briefly write about Hercules’ club, a shrub that I was not familiar with until I saw it at Blithewold.

Mostly I’m writing about this particular tree so I can publish gratuitous kitty pics. This VERY friendly kitty (I named him Hercules) approached me on the path and jumped on the wall in front of the Hercules club (the tag made it easy to i.d.).

There are two trees known as Hercules’ club–one called Zanthoxylum clava-herculis and known as pepperwood or Southern prickly ash, and this one: Aralia spinosa, also known as angelica tree, devil’s walking stick, prickly elder, or prickly ash.

Native to the Eastern U.S., A. spinosa is a small tree or shrub with small white flowers and compound pinnate leaves. Hercules’ club likes moist soil and typically grows in thickets the forest understory or at the forest edge, as evidenced here in the forest at Blithewold. In the fall, the leaves turn a unique bronze-red color–this had not yet started to happen at Blithewold last week.

No matter, I was really taken by the berries. On the left you see that the tree has already fruited–its black berries hanging on panicles high in the air. Anyone know if you can eat them?

Here’s another pic of Hercules, the cat not the tree.

More on my visit to Blithewold over the next couple of days–I have some fabulous tree porn. But if you just can’t wait, please visit the Blithewold blog, where Kris Green, Blithewold horticulturist and blogger extraordinaire, blogs about working “on top of the world.”


5 Comments to “Plants at Blithewold”

  1. Top of the morning, Caroline – You found a beauty I hadn’t noticed! And you found it with a Herculean distraction (I called him Vanessa until I found out his people call him Jake. He responds favorably to both). I’m going to try to find out about those berries – my guess is, not palatable with a hint of poison…

  2. Hi Kris, Jake was probably less insulted by Hercules than he was by Vanessa! šŸ™‚

  3. Caroline: You were there! I should have gone but traveling around all week makes staying at home on the weekend pretty hard to beat. Thanks for the intro on Hercules, both plant and animal!

  4. I haven’t heard of this tree and like it just because it has some wonderful names. It is attractive too!

    And Hercules (aka Jake) is adorable … I had to laugh when I read that he was once called Vanessa by Kris.

  5. You have a treasure, I am looking for this tree in order to herbally treat my mixed connective tissue disease. Here is more on the berries.

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