Panax quinquefolius L.

American Ginseng


CC = 8
CW = 5
MOC = 41

© SRTurner

Family - Araliaceae

Habit - Rhizomatous perennial forb with short rhizomes at the tip of the elongate, sometimes branched, fleshy main roots.

Stems - Erect, solitary from the tip of the rhizome, to 50 cm, glabrous.

Panax_quinquefolius_stem.jpg Stem tip.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Deciduous, in a single whorl of usually 3-4 at the stem tip, once palmately compound with usually 5 leaflets. Leaflets 6-15 cm long, oblong-obovate to obovate, tapered to a point at the tip, narrowed to a short stalk at the sometimes slightly asymmetrical base, the margins sharply toothed, glabrous or sparsely hairy along the veins. Petioles glabrous, to 10 cm long. Petiolules to 2 cm, glabrous, with a shallow adaxial groove.

Panax_quinquefolius_leaf1.jpg Single leaf.

© SRTurner

Panax_quinquefolius_leaflet1.jpg Leaflet adaxial.

© SRTurner

Panax_quinquefolius_leaflet2.jpg Leaflet abaxial.

© SRTurner

Panax_quinquefolius_pressed_leaflet.jpg Pressed leaflet.

© DETenaglia

Inflorescence - Solitary terminal pedunculate umbel. Peduncle to +10cm long, glabrous. Stalks 1-12 cm long, elongating in fruit, glabrous.

Panax_quinquefolius_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Panax_quinquefolius_inflorescence2.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Panax_quinquefolius_bracts.jpg Bracts.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Sepals absent or 5 minute teeth. Petals 0.5-1.0 mm long, oblong-elliptic, white to greenish white, glabrous. Stamens 5, erect. Filaments glabrous, 2 mm long, greenish-white. Anthers whitish, 1.1 mm long. Styles 2, green, glabrous, to 1.5 mm. Ovary inferior, 2-locular, with a nectariferous ring at apex.

Panax_quinquefolius_fruits2.jpg Maturing fruits.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Drupes 9-10 mm long, somewhat flattened and usually slightly 2-lobed, bright red, glabrous, shiny, with 2 stones.

Flowering - June - July.

Habitat - Mesic upland forests, often in ravines, ledges of shaded bluffs and rock outcrops.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Aralia nudicaulis.

Other info. - This plant has been found in numerous counties in Missouri, though the distribution has been distorted by extirpation due to overcollecting, and also in some cases by deliberate cultivation. Its natural range is within the eastern half of the continental U.S.

"Ginseng," as this species is often called, is becoming very rare in the state, and over much of its range due to over-collecting for financial gain. The situation is exacerbated by idiotic television programs which glamorize illegal plant poaching. Collecting of the plant on most public lands is prohibited, and commerce in the roots is regulated. MDC maintains a webpage which describes these policies in detail. They are in place because the plant's wild populations have suffered serious declines due to overharvesting, and the species is imperiled as a result. This plant is not the same as the traditional Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).

Photographs taken in Missouri, 6-29-01 and 6-25-03 (DETenaglia); also 9-20-2010, 5-19-2020 and 6-4-2020 (SRTurner).