We called it devil’s club. It was large, growing as tall or taller than me. Its leaves resembled those of the maple, and it produced bright red berries that Mother told us we must never, ever eat. But the most distinctive feature of the plant was that it was covered, from stem to leaves, with long, sharp spines. (page 146 – The Lightkeeper’s Daughters)
My research into Porphyry Island revealed that it was home to unique plant species, including some arctic disjuncts and rare orchids. This prompted me to weave a story thread that included adding the characters of Alfred and Millie, biologists researching wetlands and documenting the vegetation found there. But the presence of the plant oplopanax horridus, or devil’s club, offered more opportunity for the environment to play into the story, and it appears in several scenes.
Common along the pacific northwest coast, devil’s club grows in the understory of moist forested ecosystems from Alaska down through BC to Washington and east to the Rockies. Its presence on a few islands in Lake Superior, including Isle Royale, the Slates and Porphyry Island, is a bit on an anomaly. The plant is characterized by a dense armour of needle-like spines that covers the stems and undersides of the leaves. In addition to the scratches and discomfort of being scraped by the spines, contact with the plant can cause severe skin reactions.