Aralia racemosa L.

American Spikenard

Aralia racemosa plant2

Family - Araliaceae

Habit - Taprooted perennial herb, sometimes woody at base.

Stems - Erect to spreading, to 2.4 m, branched, pubescent, unarmed, green to purple.

Aralia racemosa stem2Stem and node, stipules.

Leaves - Alternate, ternately and then pinnately compound, petiolate, stipulate, usually 2 or more per stem. Petioles to 5 cm. Each pinna with 9-21 leaflets. Leaflets 2-18 cm long, ovate, acuminate, doubly toothed, dull green and short-hairy above, silvery green and short-hairy (mostly on veins) below.

Aralia racemosa leafPortion of leaf.

Inflorescence - Terminal and axillary panicles or racemes of umbellets, to 20 cm long, the axis hairy. Some inflorescence branches subtended by small linear bracts to 3 mm long. Umbellets with +/-10 flowers. Pedicels to 6 mm long. Umbellets subtended by minute bracts to 2 mm long.

Aralia racemosa budsYoung inflorescence.

Flowers - Sepals 5 low, broadly triangular teeth. Petals oblong-elliptic, to 1 mm, white, glabrous, spreading. Stamens 5, alternating with the petals. Filaments white, glabrous, 1.1 mm long. Anthers whitish, 0.5 mm long. Ovary 5-locular, inferior Styles 5, 0.5 mm long, sometimes basally fused. Receptacle closed by an enlarged nectary. Hypanthium pubescent at the base but mostly glabrous, 1.3 mm long, greenish-white.

Aralia racemosa flowersFlowers.

Fruits - Globose drupes, glabrous, to 6 mm in diameter, reddish purple to black, usually with 5 stones. Umbellet maturities usually asynchronous.

Aralia racemosa fruitsInfructescence.

Flowering - June - August.

Habitat - Rich wooded slopes, ravines, moist ledges and bluffs.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - This interesting species can be found mostly in the western 2/3 of Missouri. In the greater U.S. it is found across the upper Midwest and New England, with a disjunct region in the Southwest (primarily Arizona and New Mexico). It is not highly common, and since it seems to prefer areas difficult to access, such as ravines and bluff faces, it is not frequently encountered. When in flower or fruit the plant is easily recognized by its wide growth habit and striking inflorescences. Each leaf is very large, consisting of three primary branches, each of which is pinnately divided into large leaflets.

The roots of A. racemosa are aromatic and spicy, and have been used medicinally for respiratory ailments, rheumatic fever, syphilis, and skin problems, and are an ingredient in root beer. The plant was used by Native Americans in a fashion similar to that of the closely related wild sarsaparilla (A. nudicaulis). The attractive foliage and inflorescences of the species make it a good candidate for a garden ornamental, provided adequate space is available for its large, bushy growth habit.

Photographs taken at Greer Spring, Oregon County, MO., 7-8-01, and in Pictured Rocks National Seashore, MI., 7-25-02 (DETenaglia); also at Taum Sauk State Park, Iron County, MO, 8-23-2009; Rockwoods Reservation, St. Louis County, MO, 9-20-2010, Crawford Estate Conservation Area, Clark County, MO, 7-8-2017; Little Lost Creek Conservation Area, Warren County, MO, 6-6-2018; Lincoln County, 8-8-2018; and LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, Jefferson County, MO, 8-27-2018 (SRTurner).