Aralia racemosa (Spikenard)

Plant Info
Also known as: American Spikenard
Genus:Aralia
Family:Araliaceae (Ginseng)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade; rich woods
Bloom season:July
Plant height:3 to 7 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Flower clusters are long, irregular branched panicles that emerge from leaf axils up and down the main and branching stems, and are made up of smaller round clusters of stalked flowers all arising from the same point (umbels). Individual flowers are pale green to greenish white, less than 1/8 inch across with 5 triangular, blunt tipped petals that are often reflexed back against the receptacle. 5 prominent, white stamens extend from the center surrounding a single, short style. Flower stalks are densely covered in very short white hairs, giving them a frosty look.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are few but large, twice compound, over 2 feet long and nearly as wide. Leaflets are to 5½ inches long, oval but typically heart-shaped at the base, abruptly tapering to a sharply pointed tip, sharply toothed, sometimes with fine hairs along the underside veins, on slender stalks. Stems are stout, usually dark maroon and generally smooth or covered in short, fine hairs. Many branched, it often grows wider than tall.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a berry-like capsule ¼ inch in diameter, 5-sectioned, plumping up, turning dark purple, and resembling elderberries when ripe.

Notes:

Aralia racemosa is a large, spreading, shrub-like plant at maturity, dying all the way back to the ground during the dormant season so is technically not a shrub. Highly shade tolerant, it makes an excellent urban shade garden specimen providing wildlife habitat in both structure and food. It's also an excellent substitute for gardeners who find the shape and form of the highly invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) desirable.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Washington counties.

Comments

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

Posted by: Pat - Cass co.
on: 2013-08-25 23:42:54

Found one plant growing in a deeply wooded, wettish area. A thrill for me and I will collect seeds this fall.

Posted by: Janet - Afton
on: 2014-09-04 10:33:39

I saw this plant growing in Afton at Squire House Gardens and purchased it there for my garden in Wisconsin. The grounds at Squire House Garden are beautiful and inspiring. I also saw Angelica gigas, something I'd never seen. This I didn't see available for purchase.

Posted by: jana - Near Gunsten Lake, Lake County
on: 2015-08-24 10:45:28

Growing wild along the forest road between Gunsten and Swallow Lakes

Posted by: Kevin - Falls Creek SNA
on: 2016-07-10 06:37:51

About 50 yards down the path to Falls Creek SNA

Posted by: Kristin - St. Paul east side
on: 2016-09-08 14:39:41

Quite a few of these have been planted at Sun Ray Library, in various conditions of sunny or shady. The soil in general is sandy loam. I am learning a lot about this plant by observing it there!

Posted by: cheryl b - elm creek park reserve in hennepin county
on: 2017-08-30 01:49:40

Found a nice patch of this fruiting right now in Elm Creek Park Reserve.

Posted by: Bob Fulton - Camp Ajawah, Linwood Lake, Anoka County
on: 2018-07-07 09:46:51

Found this growing near the swamp at the low point in the camp road. I was stymied until someone helped me on Minnesota Wildflowers facebook.

Posted by: Dan Ackermann - Staples, MN
on: 2018-07-31 20:56:04

There are some growing at the Living Legacy Gardens located at the Central Lakes College Ag and Energy center just out of Staples MN

Posted by: Kathy F. - Buse Township, Otter Tail County
on: 2018-08-11 08:14:02

This is another plant appeared in the moist woods behind our lake cottage after the removal of buckthorn!

Posted by: Bruce Brummitt - Smoky Hills State Forest
on: 2018-08-21 15:29:27

We have this growing near us and is heavily laden with berries now.

Posted by: Phil J Gerla - Ozawindib Lake, Itasca State Park
on: 2018-08-21 20:29:41

Abundant along a shady stream bed on the west side of the lake.

Posted by: Michael Diehl - Deerwood
on: 2018-08-26 20:35:00

I spotted it while golfing at the Deerwood golf course and did not recognize it. I went thru NR in college so I dug into it and found out what it was. Awesome plant.

Posted by: Brandy Yetzer - Crosby
on: 2018-09-21 14:38:42

I have it growing in my woods near the lake. Is this plant edible, if so, which parts and how can it be prepared?

Posted by: Michael Haugen - minnetonka
on: 2018-09-30 22:52:47

The Bakken Museum in Mpls. has several large specimens in the formal gardens area.

Posted by: Ginger Wierman - Chippewa Falls, WI
on: 2019-07-13 08:35:33

I read your note but would appreciate your help. We are same growing zone...Chairing a 1/2 acre native wildflower sanctuary in Chippewa Falls, WI (90 min. E of Twin Cities) and just purchased 3 American Spikenard plants. Saw several comments on this site that characterize spikenard as "spreading." Are you saying it will walk all over the sanctuary or to just be sure to choose a site with enough space for each individual plant to spread? We have 120 shade/part shade varieties from Skunk cabbage in late winter to Tall bellflower at frost. The sanctuary is a project of Lake Wissota Garden Club. Thanks, Ginger

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-07-13 11:07:02

Ginger, we planted spikenard in our shade garden and found it readily reseeds more than we wanted. The crown can also become quite large and send up more shoots. It's a lovely addition to our garden but can be a bit of work to control. More competition is probably needed to keep it in check in cultivation.

Posted by: Alice - Grant
on: 2019-07-22 16:58:04

A couple years ago a lovely American spikenard grew on the edge of our woods in Grant (near Stillwater) and has come up each year since. It's in a place where we can see it easily and does not compete with anything else. We love it. So far it has not reseeded. I'd like to start some more next year and am currently researching how to best go about that.

Posted by: Mike Anderson - Ordway Field Station, Inver Grove Heights
on: 2019-09-16 18:15:50

Found two large individuals in a mature oak forest just south of the Pine Bend SNA.

Posted by: Ron W - Cass County near Bena
on: 2019-09-24 08:36:23

Amazed by their beauty. Found them growing in the woods of Cass County in Northern Minnesota.

Posted by: Anne Hanley - Hennepin county, Lone Lake Park in Minnetonka
on: 2019-10-03 13:37:35

MInnetonka natural resource staff says the berry flesh is a germination inhibitor, so if you gather berries to plant, pull away the fruit before planting. There are a few plants on a shady ridge top in Lone Lake Park.

Posted by: Paul henjum - Apple Valley
on: 2020-03-23 04:24:40

Another large herbaceous perennial that grows best in open shade in oak woodlands. I have two plants that were collected before a housing development was put in. Otherwise never was a common plant around here. Long-lived, my plants are over 40 years old. It does not spread but forms a clump with a few large stems and grows over 6 feet wide with large compound leaves. Unfortunately, no seedlings even though it produces an abundance of seeds each year. It can be propagated from root cutting but hate to damage the plants because they are an impressive foliage display, being the tallest and largest native shade growing herbaceous plants. They have an interesting almost ginger-like scent.

Posted by: rebecca - Minnetonka
on: 2020-04-01 10:17:27

I have this planted as a screen/hedge and it is gorgeous. I want to buy more plants. Does anyone know of a nursery that carries it?

Posted by: Peter K - Minneapolis
on: 2020-05-22 19:56:58

Just purchased three from Prairie Nursery (WI). Planted in shady front yard. Want for habitat, going all natives on my inner city property.

Posted by: kathy - Plymouth
on: 2020-06-22 11:36:41

We have this in our restored woodland yard. It's in a very shady area.

Posted by: Zack Gustafson - Quadna Mountain, Hill City, MN
on: 2020-08-10 14:07:55

I found this plant while working on Quadna Mountain south of Hill City, MN. Most of the fruit was green with clusters turning ripe. Growing near blackberry and raspberry bushes at the top of the hill in an area that is shady in the afternoon through the evening.

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