Q: Is this thorny woodland plant a noxious weed or a beneficial native?
A: You have a Hercules’ club or Devil’s walking stick: Aralia spinosa (or Zanthoxylum clava-herculis).
I consider it a beneficial native. Though the thorns along the trunk look dangerous, the flowers, which appear in early August, attract bees and butterflies.
Interestingly, what appear to be leaves on the plant are actually leaflets….a leaf begins at the stem and spreads from there. The result is a plant with some of the largest “leaves” in the South.