Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng)
|Also known as:||Wild Ginseng|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; rich hardwood forest|
|Bloom season:||June - July|
|Plant height:||8 to 16 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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A single dome-shaped cluster about ¾-inch across on a 1 to 2-inch stalk at the top of the stem. The tiny 5-petaled flowers are greenish white, less than 1/8 inch across, on a 1/3 to ½ inch stalk; 5 stamens protrude from the center. Flowers open from the bottom of the cluster first and fruit sets quickly so that large green fruit is often present well before 50% of the flower buds have opened.
Leaves and stems:
Leaflets are in groups of 3 to 5 (rarely 7), 2 to 5 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, oblong or broadest at the tip end, hairless, with serrated edges and an abruptly pointed tip. The central and first set of side leaflets are nearly equal in size and long stalked, the outermost leaflets conspicuously smaller with very short stalks.
America created an instant cash export market of Ginseng as early as 1716. More lucrative than the fur trade, exports exceeded 100s of thousands of tons per year well into the late 18th century. Such a notable frontier American hero as Daniel Boone actually made his fortune - not on furs - but on the lowly "man root" collected from the Appalachian wilderness. Like all things market driven, a species that can attain over a century of age, American Ginseng has been hunted to near extinction. Faced with continued human exploitation, loss of habitat and fragmentation of habitat by development, over grazing by artificially high deer populations, seed bank loss to rebounding wild turkey populations, loss and destruction of habitat to invasive plants (e.g. buckthorn, garlic mustard, etc.), and animals (earthworms and wild pigs)... oh dear... one has to wonder if we humans have the will to save anything we value. Native ginseng is extremely rare to encounter in the wild. A very common native look-a-like is Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), but its compound leaves are not palmate, the leaflets stalkless, the flower clusters typically in 3s, and the fruits round and dark purplish blue.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in a private garden in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Washington County, and in a private garden in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?