Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus (Sm.) Torr. & A. Gray ex. Miq., Araliaceae) is probably the most important spiritual and medicinal plant to most indigenous peoples who live within its range. Different parts of this plant are used by over 38 linguistic groups for over 34 categories of physical ailment, as well as many spiritual applications. Devil’s club [syn. Echinopanax horridus (Sm.) Decne. & Planch, Fatsia horrida (Sm.) Benth. & Hook, Panax horridum Sm.; Riconophyllum horridum Pall.] is a common deciduous understory shrub occurring in moist, but well drained, forested ecosystems from coastal Alaska southward to central Oregon and eastward to the southwestern Yukon, the Canadian Rockies, northwestern Alberta, Montana, and Idaho. There are also several disjunct populations near northern Lake Superior, in Michigan and Ontario. The stems of this shrub are upright to decumbent and can reach heights exceeding 6 meters (~20 feet). The leaves are large (up to 35 cm across [~14 inches]) and maple-shaped.

The purpose of this paper is to clarify devil’s club’s medicinal properties by summarizing reported traditional medicinal applications, examining contemporary use by indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, and reviewing recent phytochemical research. Intellectual property rights and cultural and conservation issues associated with the commercialization of this plant are also discussed.

Click to access Turner1982.pdf

The book Canadian Medicinal Crops article on Devil’s Club shows a native population far removed from the primary Pacific Northwest habitat existing in the North Shore Lake Superior rain forest area including Isle Royale and adjacent mainland of Minnesota and Ontario. Devil’s Club is grown in many other areas as a garden ornamental plant.

The map below shows wild population in Michigan, however it’s misleading because apparently none in the upper Keweenaw, only verified wild populations are on two islands near Thunder Bay, and on Isle Royale and Passage Island off the NE tip of Isle Royale.  A random coincidence that of the four locations Passage Island and Porphyry Island are both sites of lighthouses? I don’t buy the explanation these orphan populations are remnants of wide-spread continuous habitat as the last continental glaciers retreated. Surely there are other islands and on the mainland in Minnesota, Ontario and UP Michigan with similar climate and soil hospitable to the plant.


More info about various aspects of the plant:


  • The Vancouver Island Nuu-chah-nulth made fish lures from peeled devil’s club stems, which were tied near fishhooks to snag the fish.
  • The Ditidaht has two different fish lures out of devil’s club: one lure to attract codfish to the surface before spearing them and a hoo attached to a line and used mainly for black bass fish.
  • The Haida First Nations used the stems of devil’s club as hooks to catch black cod and octopus.

Devil’s Club can be found in the Southern part of Coastal British Columbia. It is found in open sites, especially common on disturbed sites such as along roads. It can also be found in open forests and is generally more abundant at low elevation.

Memoirs, Volumes 1-2
Harvard University. Gray Herbarium
1917 – Botany

Page 257 shows a map with distribution jumping from those four islands to Pacific NW and in an arc through the Aleutians to Japan and Korea