Botanical Name: Zanthoxylum clava-herculis
Common Name: Hercules’ club, Hercules-Club, Pepperwood, Southern Prickly Ash, Toothache Tree, Tickle Tongue, Wild Orange
Description: Ok, here is yet another super cool native tree that needs to be in your garden. Ya gotta know it’ll be interesting just by all the common names it goes by.
Aromatic, spiny, round-crowned tree with spreading branches and tiny gland-dots on foliage, flowers, and fruit. It’s in the Rue/Citrus family. Can grow in sun, part sun, or part shade. Is native in these areas: Central Virginia to South Florida, west to East Texas, and north to Southeast Oklahoma. Its native habitat is fence rows, prairie, plains, sandy hammocks, meadows, pastures, and savannas. Grows 20-30′ tall x 12-15′ wide. Is deciduous. Grows fine in these soil types: clay, loam, sand. Drought tolerant after becoming established.
Follicles (fruit) produced in clusters, individual fruits enclosed in a brown husk that splits open at maturity to reveal a shiny red-brown to black seed. The fruit is edible, with a lemon zest taste that first tingles, then numbs in the mouth, like the Szechuan peppers used in Chinese cuisine. The leaves have a similar but less intense taste and effect. The fruit ripens in the fall.
The bark of the trunk is light gray and thinly covered with conspicuous, corky, cone-like tubercles (wartlike outgrowths). The twigs are brown to gray and have simple spines. In other words, this tree has thorns/spines all over it. I put them in one place in Bella’s garden area, and that’s where they’re staying until y’all buy them cause they are not easy to move around. Make sure you have gloves on when you transplant it.
The fragrant but tiny flowers are greenish white and appear in April and May.
Hercules’ Club provides an excellent source of seeds and fruit for birds. It is a larval host plant for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes). The flowers attract butterflies. Very valuable native tree to wildlife.
Besides being a very cool tree, Hercules’ Club also has medicinal value. Native Americans used the root as well as the bark to make a poultice, and they also used it with whiskey to make a salve for treating swollen limbs. But that’s only a small portion of what Hercules’ Club has been used for. The bark contains a bitter oil called xanthoxylin. It’s been used as a stimulant, to treat fevers, poor circulation, and rheumatism. It has been used to make treatments for venereal disease, respiratory ailments, ulcers, and skin problems. It contains chelerythrine, which has shown promise as a treatment for drug-resistant staph. All parts of the tree have a numbing effect when chewed, hence the common name ‘Toothache Tree.’
Not salt tolerant of inundation by salty or brackish water. Moderately tolerant of salty wind and may tolerate some salt spray.
This plant in 3-gallon containers is 2-4′ tall.
Plant Lore: The common and Latin species names both refer to the spiny branches. The seeds have been used as a pepper substitute.
Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 10