Flora and Fauna

Devils Claw on Deerfield Island

Spines on Spines on Spines

The name Devil’s Claw  comes from its scary back-curved spines.   Deerfield Island Park employees can vouch for the pain and torn up clothing that is a result of trying to tame it in places.   But why have curved spines for self-defense when straight bayonets are more to the point?    Perhaps reverse-curvation helps the vine cling to its host trees. It is hurricane country, after all.  Under ideal conditions, Devil’s Claw can graduate from its lowly clinging vine status to full-blown treehood. Even the leaves have these spines on them.

Not only does the stem shown there possess spines on spines on spines, but also the final spines are curved so that anything that gets punctured will probably get ripped, too. This is one of the most aggressively spiny stemmed plant. But spininess isn't this plant's only distinction: It's also a perfect example of a "half tree, half vine" state.

The plant is PISONIA ACULEATA, a member of the Four-o'clock Family, the Nyctaginaceae, along not only with Four-o'clocks but also Bougainvilleas. Of course in English it's known as Cat-claw and Devil's-claw, but the name that seems to appear most in the literature is "Pull-back-and-hold." It's also known as Catchbirdtree, for reasons that may be obvious.

The species is nearly "pantropical" -- native throughout the New World's tropics but introduced in many other places. In the US it reaches southern Texas and southern Florida.

The plants are either male or female, that is, they are dioecious, and the male and female flowers differ.   The male flowers are bowl-shaped and yellowish;   the females  are narrower,  more constricted, with a comical brushy stigma resembling a tuft of hair.


Devil's Claw (an invasive) is pervasive on Deerfield Island, growing up around and through some of the trees. When Hurricane Irma hit the island recently, several trees were broken but were still held aloft because of the web of Devils Claw holding them in place.

On your next visit, look for the canopy of Devil's Claw still holding up some broken trees.