with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Backlighting Devil’s Club Overhead

Devils club leaves photographed by Lorelle VanFossen backlit in the forest.

Traveling to Seattle, a friend and I went to the John Bastyr School for one of their health and herbal festivals. A nature walk through the forest next to the campus intrigued me. It was incredibly informative, discussing how to use plants in the wilderness for medical treatments and health.

The Pacific Northwest forest was dappled with sunlight and the treacherous Devils Club hung over our heads at one point in trail. I worked around the group trying to get a good angle on the plant to capture the details with the strong backlighting.

The Devil’s Club is one that I’ve run into since a child digging around the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and trust me, this is one you do not want to stumble into. Called the Devil’s Club or Walking Stick, it can grow up to 16 feet (5 meters) tall in rainforests and damp environments to which Western Washington is well equipped. Spines are found not only on the stems but the leaves, making it a painful experience to touch in any way, even brush against.

According to our guide, Native Americans used Devil’s Club for medicine to treat diabetes, tumors, chapped lips, and tumors. It can also be used as an analgesic, though it isn’t as strong as traditional aspirin. It can be used in herbal teas and he said that they ate it as food. He didn’t clarify which part they ate, from the red fruits that form in clusters off stems that look like clubs, or from the leaves or root.

For me, this is a plant I’ve endured most of my life, having spent too many hours pulling its little thorn-like spines from by arms and legs and out of my dogs. Still, it is a magnificent examples of the unusual in the world. A plant I think of when I imagine what plant life was like during the dinosaur times.

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