Xanthozylum Clava-Hercules is blooming right now, and it seems to be host for a wide variety of pollinators that are drawn to it. This plant is also known as Hercules Club, or Southern Prickly Ash. It is a pretty amazing tree native to the lowcountry. Dewees Island Ecologist, Lori Sheridan Wilson, often gives a taste of it to students when she is on an ecology tour of the island. “Native Americans might have taught the early settlers about the medicinal properties of this tree,” she says, breaking off a piece to share. “You can chew the bark or leaves and experience a numbing sensation that relieves a toothache.”
On mature trees, the bark is covered with large, spiny protuberances (hence the name prickly ash), and it loses its leaves in the winter. The tree loves calcium rich soils, and is sort of a barrier island specialist, tolerating salt spray periodically. It is a native citrus relative, and a host tree for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, whose caterpillars actually resemble bird droppings as a way of camouflage. SCDNR, in a great downloadable publication called Best Management Practices for Wildlife in Maritime Forest Developments recommends planting Hercules club as a way to attract caterpillars and butterflies.
Some plants that are preferred food-plants for caterpillars and adults include: Hercules club, black cherry, sassafras, fennel, red bay, passion-flower, milkweed, pawpaw, violets, loquat, Carolina laurel cherry, daylilies, Salvia, rosemary, asters, marigolds and honeysuckle.
Last week, one bush was covered with pollinators of all shapes and sizes: from ants to bees to wasps and hornets to butterflies and moths. A mockingbird hopped from branch to branch, snacking on the insects which were drawn to the blooms.