Tickle Tongue Tree

Q: My uncle showed me a tree growing on his farm that he called a tickle tongue. He said when he was a kid they would chew the bark if they had a tooth ache. I just licked the inside of the bark instead and my tongue went numb for about five minutes. Any idea what it is?

A: If you licked the bark forcefully you’d be glad your tongue was numb. Did you notice the big thorns on the limbs beforehand? I believe the small tree/large shrub you tasted is a prickly ash, Zanthoxylum americanum. Indeed, Native Americans and settlers used it as an oral anesthetic. The plant has inconspicuous flowers and is not generally considered ornamental. It is simply another neighbor in the natural world.

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