As I mentioned in my post about Skunk Cabbage, I am attracted to odd or strange plants. So it has never been a surprise—to me at least—that Hercules Club is one of my favorite plants. Hercules Club (Aralia spinosa) is a 10 to 20-foot-tall shrub or small tree in the Ginseng family (Araliaceae). Its distinctive features are its huge, 3-foot-long doubly compound leaves and the densely packed prickles on its trunk and leaf stems. The prickles create a very formidable armature. If you are walking in the woods and stumble, do not grab this plant for support! In late summer it displays a huge, multi-branched, terminal cluster of small white flowers. In the fall, numerous small, black, juicy berries are produced. The berries are excellent food for wildlife, especially migrating warblers, thrushes, and other songbirds.
Hercules Club is a southern plant (where it can reach a height of 35 feet), so we are on the northern edge of its natural range here in southern Indiana. It is very rare or non-existent in Monroe County, so when Sandy found some plants along a roadside just to the south of us in Lawrence County about 20 years ago, we dug up a few and planted them in our woods. Over the years the original plants have died but they sent out suckers, and those suckers have sent out other suckers, and so the plants have moved around, but there are always a few plants growing each year. A couple times the plants have grown large enough and received enough sun to produce a flower cluster. Last month Sandy asked me if I had noticed that one of the Hercules Clubs was in bloom. Since I often suffer from “butterfly tunnel-vision” I had not noticed. It had been a few years since one had bloomed, but I remembered it was very attractive to a wide range of pollinators, including butterflies, so I was anxious to see what insects were being attracted to the flowers.
On my first visit I saw large numbers of Halictid bees swarming around the flower cluster. Then an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail stopped by for a brief visit. I decided to get a ladder and try to photograph as many of the flower visitors as possible.
Below I present a gallery of the visitors I managed to photograph. There are representatives here from five orders of insects: Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets), Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (flies), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), and Hymenoptera (bees and wasps), plus one order of birds: Caprimulgiformes (nightjars, swifts, and hummingbirds).