Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Araliaceae (Ginseng)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; dry sandy or rocky soil; open woods, rock outcrops, bluffs, rarely swamps
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
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: round

[photo of flowers] Flower clusters are round, 1 to 1¼ inches across with up to 30, 1/8 inch flowers on ½-inch stalks all radiating from the same point (umbel). Up to 5 clusters diverge on separate, long naked stalks on branching stems in the upper plant and the top of the main stem. Flowers have 5 oblong greenish to creamy white petals, softly pointed at the tips and bend back and curl away from the base. In the center are 5 white stamens extended above the petals surrounding a single short style.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are few, mostly near the base of the plant, twice compound, the leaflets oblong to lance elliptic, up to 3¼ inches long, tapered to a point, edges sharply toothed, the upper surface shiny, lower surface with fine short hairs along the veins.

[photo of stems] Stems are stout with long sharp bristles, becoming smooth and slender in the upper plant, and typically red colored. The lower 2 to 8 inches are woody and persistent through the winter, the rest dying back in fall and resprouting in spring.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of developing fruit] Fruits are globose, ¼ to 1/3 inch diameter, 5-sectioned, plumping up, turning purplish black and resembling blueberries when ripe.


Aralia hispida is highly drought tolerant and fairly common along Lake Superior's rocky cliffs and similar habitats in the BWCA. Oddly it is occasionally found in very wet swamps on raised rotting wood hummocks but only when adequate sunlight is present. This high light requirement makes it adaptive to recent forest openings from fire or disturbance but it quickly disappears once the forest canopy closes over. A. hispida is the only Aralia species in Minnesota that develops a woody lower stem, technically making it a shrub.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Lake County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lake County.


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

Posted by: Courtney - northeast Koochiching Co., southwest of Ray
on: 2014-08-30 07:46:24

I have some nice photos of deep blue Aralia hispida fruits, if you're interested in adding them. Such a pretty plant in fruit!

Posted by: Barb P - Barnum, MN
on: 2017-07-13 10:01:26

I think I have this plant, Bristly Sarsaparilla plant, very numerous at the edge of out field, lowland next to wood line. West sun. We did bulldoze this area about 2 years ago. Have not seen it here before.

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