Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng)

Plant Info
Also known as: Wild Ginseng
Genus:Panax
Family:Araliaceae (Ginseng)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Status:
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, shade; rich hardwood forest
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:8 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers] A single dome-shaped cluster about ¾-inch across on a 1 to 2-inch stalk at the top of the stem. The tiny 5-petaled flowers are greenish white, less than 1/8 inch across, on a 1/3 to ½ inch stalk; 5 stamens protrude from the center. Flowers open from the bottom of the cluster first and fruit sets quickly so that large green fruit is often present well before 50% of the flower buds have opened.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: compound Leaf type: palmate

[photo of stem] At the top of the stem is a single whorl of 1 to 4 (age dependent) palmately compound leaves, above which the flower stalk and cluster develop.

[photo of leaves] Leaflets are in groups of 3 to 5 (rarely 7), 2 to 5 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, oblong or broadest at the tip end, hairless, with serrated edges and an abruptly pointed tip. The central and first set of side leaflets are nearly equal in size and long stalked, the outermost leaflets conspicuously smaller with very short stalks.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] The flat, round seeds often form in pairs, sometimes in 3s, covered by a bright red fleshy coat. Ripe fruit is up to ¾ inch across.

Notes:

America created an instant cash export market of Ginseng as early as 1716. More lucrative than the fur trade, exports exceeded 100s of thousands of tons per year well into the late 18th century. Such a notable frontier American hero as Daniel Boone actually made his fortune - not on furs - but on the lowly "man root" collected from the Appalachian wilderness. Like all things market driven, a species that can attain over a century of age, American Ginseng has been hunted to near extinction. Faced with continued human exploitation, loss of habitat and fragmentation of habitat by development, over grazing by artificially high deer populations, seed bank loss to rebounding wild turkey populations, loss and destruction of habitat to invasive plants (e.g. buckthorn, garlic mustard, etc.), and animals (earthworms and wild pigs)... oh dear... one has to wonder if we humans have the will to save anything we value. Native ginseng is extremely rare to encounter in the wild. A very common native look-a-like is Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), but its compound leaves are not palmate, the leaflets stalkless, the flower clusters typically in 3s, and the fruits round and dark purplish blue.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in a private garden in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Washington County, and in a private garden in Anoka County.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: brenda - Avon
on: 2012-07-18 09:36:16

I was helping a friend do a plant survey in a hardwoods forest in central mn. I thought that we spotted a ginseng plant but was not totally sure. Came back a second time and with more info ,yep that's what it is ! Pretty exciting!

Posted by: Anthony - Hennepin, Le Sueur, Sibley, and Stearns counties
on: 2014-07-16 13:53:54

I know of several locations, a few undocumented. They keep getting dug up, though. Last year I counted 130 plants in one location; this year I counted trowel holes and a few hidden plants they missed

Posted by: sean - Central- brainard lakes region
on: 2016-06-03 21:47:10

I've got a huge stand of wild ginseng in our woods. We're on a mixed oak/ Jack pine dominated sand plane. Surprised to see its so rare since we've got so much!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-06-06 11:25:27

Sean, it is possible what you have is wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) rather than ginseng. It is very common in woodlands and forested areas throughout much of Minnesota where ginseng is quite rare.

Posted by: Jason - Southeast
on: 2016-08-28 23:05:46

I have harvested ginseng for years... There are areas where it grows abundantly, But those of us who know where it grows will never share where it's located!

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