It is early spring in the rocky woods, and, there on the hill-slope above the creek, the thorny thickets of prickly ash trees are all in bloom. It is an insignificant but eloquent burst of bloom, the full extent of this tree's annual flowering, but it serves the prickly ash sufficiently well to provide seeds for the coining year. The flowers are short, stamen-filled, greenish or yellowish, shallow bells which burst apparently from the bark of the stems, where the stern prickles jut out. There are no leaves on the prickly ash so early in April when the flowers bloom. Then the tight, deeply set buds open and the compound leaves come forth, and it is late spring, and then summer. All summer the dark green leaves are there on the trees and make a dense shade beneath. Sometimes the leaves are eaten by the hungry orange-dog caterpillar, larva of the giant swallowtail which prefers, of all plants in the land, the leaves of Rue family members for a diet. In the southern states the orange-dog, therefore, eats the leaves of orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees. In the north it chooses those of the prickly ash, which is a member of the same family.
Zanthoxylum americamim Mill.
In late summer and autumn the fruits are ripe. These are extremely miniature scarlet "oranges" which split to reveal a shiny black seed. The fleshy fruits when crushed have a strong citrus odor, and when applied to the skin or taken into the mouth, set up a violent burning sensation. This is the reason for its common name of toothache tree, for the counter-irritation set up by the fruits and inner bark of prickly ash is enough to make anyone forget the most severe toothache. Indians and pioneers knew the prickly ash for this beneficent quality.