Sanicula trifoliata (Beaked Snakeroot)

Plant Info
Also known as: Large-fruited Black Snakeroot, Large-fruited Sanicle
Family:Apiaceae (Carrot)
Life cycle:biennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, shade; deciduous forest, floodplains, wooded slopes
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:12 to 30 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 Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: flat Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flower clusters] Small clusters (umbels) at the top of the stem and arising on long stalks from the upper leaf axils. An umbel is made up of 1 to 5 smaller clusters (umbellets) about ¾ inch across, flattish to rounded with up to 8 flowers per umbellet. Flowers are either male or perfect (both male and female parts) and both are usually present in an umbellet. An umbellet has up to 5 male flowers and 2 to 5 perfect flowers, all tiny with 5 white petals.

[close-up of flowers] The calyx surrounding a flower has 5 narrow lobes slightly longer than the petals. Male flowers are on slender stalks usually twice or more as long as the calyx and rising well above the perfect flowers. Perfect flowers are stalkless, have a prominent ovary covered in rows of hooked bristles, an inconspicuous style that is shorter than the bristles, and the calyx is as long as or longer than the bristles.

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

[photo of lower leaf] Leaves are alternate and palmately compound with 3 leaflets, the lateral pair often cleft so it sometimes appears as 5 leaflets, and which may have 1 or 2 additional shallow lobes. Leaflets are hairless and coarsely double-toothed, are generally up to 3 inches long and to 1½ inches wide, though may be larger, and often have a stretched diamond-like shape, usually widest above the middle.

[photo of upper leaf] Lower leaves are long stalked; leaves near the flowers are short stalked to stalkless and not lobed. Stems are erect, hairless, grooved, and branching in the upper plant.

Fruit: Fruit type: barbed Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of mature fruit] Fruit is stalkless, oval, 6 to 8 mm (¼ to 1/3 inch) long, and covered in rows of hooked bristles. The calyx persists and forms a beak at the tip that is as long as or longer than the bristles. The fruit splits into 2 seeds.


Beaked Snakeroot is an uncommon species of deciduous woods and floodplain forest and is considered an indicator of a mature, intact, healthy ecosystem. It reaches the western edge of its range in Minnesota, with most populations on state forest lands in our southeast counties, most of which were discovered during biological surveys in the 1990s. According to the DNR, any activity that disturbs the soils or opens large gaps in the forest canopy, such as logging, grazing, or recreational uses (i.e. ATVs), can put this species' habitat at risk. It was listed as a Special Concern species in 1984.

There are 3 additional Sanicula species in Minnesota, all with similar "pom-pom" like flower heads and palmately compound leaves. Maryland Black Snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica) and Clustered Black Snakeroot (Sanicula odorata), both have conspicuous, long styles and/or stamens, 20 or more flowers per umbellet, and lower leaves more consistently have 5 or 7 leaflets. The fourth species, Canadian Black Snakeroot (Sanicula canadensis), is most similar in all respects, but its male flowers have shorter stalks, not rising above the perfect flowers, the fruits are short-stalked, round and half as long or less, and the beak formed by the persistent sepals is shorter than the bristles. We've also observed that Canadian Black Snakeroot is often in fairly large colonies, where Beaked Snakeroot is more typically just a few, scattered plants.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore and Winona counties.


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