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Plant Profile: Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Also called false sarsaparilla, shot bush, small spikenard, wild liqorice, and rabbit root, this herbaceous perennial is a member of the ginseng family, Araliaceae, that also includes ivy, umbrella tree, and Fatsia.  It is native to North America from Newfoundland to British Columbia, south to Virginia, Georgia, and Colorado where it is a widespread, dominant understory species in boreal coniferous and mixed-wood forests, growing in moist, shady woodlands, swamps, and bogs.  Plants grow 12-24″ tall and have pinnate doubly compound leaves up to 5″ long with finely toothed leaflets.  In late spring to mid-summer a 8″ tall branching stalk typically produces three globid umbels 1.6-2″ wide bearing up to 40 tiny greenish white flowers 1/8″ long. The flowers are held below the foliage and are notable because of their long white stamens.  Bloom time lasts 2-3 weeks and flowers are replaced by blue-black berries 1/4″ across. The genus name, Aralia, comes from the old French-Canadian name for the plant.  The specific epithet, nudicaulis, comes from the Latin words nudus meaning naked, and caulis meaning stalk of a plant and refers to the leafless flowerstalk.

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Umbels of up to 40 greenish white flowers 1/8″ long in late spring to mid-summer

Size: 12-24″ H x 24″ W

Light:Semi shade to full shade

Soil: Lean, moist , well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 4-8

Care: Low maintenance

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Division, seed

Companion Plants: Ferns, hosta, Indian pink

Photo Credit: Eastern Washington University