Toothache Tree (Xanthozylum Clava-hercules)

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.


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Dershie mcdevitt

    As usual I am so smitten by all these lovely pictures and the excellent info. Dershie

  2. Jessie Drew-Cates

    Wonderful article and good pictures. I am sorry about the house fires. Hope everybody was well insured. Any word yet on how it was caused? Jess

  3. reggiefairchild

    The fire investigators, electrical company, general contractor and lots of other folks are on the island today. No word yet. The RUMOR is that it started at the construction site. No idea how.

  4. Kathleen Lunman

    Thank you for writing about this very interesting–and beautiful–tree. I just purchased a small one as a gift for the History Museum in Fernandina Beach, Florida, on behalf of our garden club–The Bartram Garden Club. We wanted to donate a native plant to the museum–and a local nursery had this. And it turns out the gardener for the museum had been interested in getting one as well!

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