Thursday, August 28, 2014

Devil's club club club

Found in the northwest and only one other place, devil's club looks the way it should look. It's scientific name is equally mysterious and monstrous: Oplopanax horridus. I found this noble specimen today. 
It can grow to an immense size, with it shoots running straight and true above the ground, like conduit, then angle straight up 10 feet, spreading its huge, pie plate leaves out, colonizing the air and hoarding the spare sunlight. Its stalks are covered in sharp spikes of various sizes. It has the look of something prehistoric and extraterrestrial and altogether weird, in the true sense of the word. Devil's club is weird. Spiritually, it is the less well known, and more dangerous cousin of western washington's most persistent and prolific plant, the blackberry bush. 
As a kid, I stumbled upon a blossoming den of devil's club in the ravine behind my house. It was a cold, dark winter day, and impending dusk made the forest black and the overcast sky bluish white. I didn't quite understand what i was looking at. I marveled at it, especially it's size. The stiff stalks running along the ground were half-dollar in diameter and covered in moss. It had taken over a marsh, blotting out competing forms of flora, and injuring fauna that strayed too close. I had trouble working through the warren of barbed plant life and mud. I tried hacking at it, but it proved stout and vengeful. So I gave up and turned around. There 

Devil's Club also plays a role in the labor history of our region. One account of how police and the Chamber of Commerce dealt with a couple IWW organizers had the men driven to the city limits. There, the crypto fascists fashioned a handle by wrapping tar paper around the end of a length of devil's club stalk, and then flogged the union men. 

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