Aralia nudicaulis (Wild Sarsaparilla)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Araliaceae (Ginseng)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; woods
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:8 to 24 inches
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: round

[photo of flowers] Round clusters 1 to 2 inches across of stalked flowers. Flowers are white or greenish white, about 1/8 inch across with 5 petals that curve back and downward. There are 5 white-tipped stamens that protrude from the center. Each plant has a few (usually 3) clusters that branch off a naked stem that arises from the base of the plant.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] A single basal leaf with a whorl of 3 compound leaves at the tip of the long, naked stem. Leaves are compound in groups of 3 to 7, each leaflet is 3 to 5 inches long and up to 2 inches across, generally oval or widest above the middle, with a sharply pointed tip and finely toothed edges that may be a little wavy. Leaflet bases are often asymmetrical. The leaves tower over the shorter flowering stem, hiding it from view. The leaf and flowering stem are hairless and arise from a long rhizome.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a ¼-inch green berry that ripens to dark purple.


The early leaves of Wild Sarsaparilla are often a shiny, bronzy color that looks rather similar to early Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) leaves, which emerge about the same time. “Leaves of 3, let it be...” Wild Sarsaparilla often has more than 3 leaflets and its flower buds, which don't resemble Poison Ivy at all, will be out with the emerging leaves. The leaflet shape of mature plants doesn't much resemble those of Poison Ivy, and Wild Sarsaparilla leaflets are finely serrated where Poison Ivy leaves are smooth or coarsely toothed.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Goose Garden

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and Wild River State Park, Chisago County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


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

Posted by: Betty - Cook Co
on: 2009-06-14 19:43:30

I have a lot of these in the yard of my cabin in Hovland, Cook County. I finally identified them this weekend when they were blooming. Unlike the pictures posted here, their leaves have a reddish hue against their background of aster leaves.

Posted by: Joel - Itasca County
on: 2013-08-31 16:31:32

From Chippewa Customs, by Frances Densmore,first published in 1929, p.111, Herbs used to attract fish. "The roots of wild sarsaparilla and calamus were dried, grated very fine, and a decoction made of the two. This was sprinkled on fish nets and allowed to dry before the nets were put in the water."

Posted by: Ruth - Hovland
on: 2013-09-13 15:10:42

An earlier posting referred to the reddish hue of these plants in Hovland. Actually, when the leaves first emerge in the spring they are a shiny copper color - quite distinctive. By midsummer they turn a rather non-descript green. I've never seen this transformation acknowledged in any field guides. I'm also in Hovland, where I find the plants in abundance.

Posted by: Larry - Red Wing
on: 2014-05-22 11:57:40

I spent two days trying to identify this plant until seeing it on your website. Peterson Field guide was no help as it doesn't picture this specimen. Found along a hillside forest trail in a patch on a public natural area. Elsewhere, I found that it is sometimes confused with poison ivy although the presence of 5 leaflets would refute this. I have killed poison ivy right next these plants, which led me to further investigate what these are. Many of these plants exhibit the reddish tinge to the leaves in this late May sighting. Again somewhat like poison ivy early leaves coloration.

Posted by: Janet - Bemidji
on: 2014-07-19 15:00:32

I'm just wondering if when the berries turn purple , now, in the middle of July if they are edible for humans.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-07-19 16:16:38

Janet, from a quick web search it seems the berries are edible but may cause sickness. Do more research before delving into edible wild plants!

Posted by: Brian - Deerwood, Crow Wing County
on: 2015-06-28 18:17:31

I found a lot of these in my woods... I was hoping they would turn out to be ginseng...not a chance.

Posted by: Trish - Red Lake Falls
on: 2015-07-29 12:06:17

We have found lots of this plant while going on walks in our woods. I always called them the 3 and 2 plants :-)They have the 3 leaves usually followed by the 2. It is fun to finally identify them! I am anxious to see if the ones we always think are poison ivy in the spring, are actually these. Thank you

Posted by: stephanie t - Crow Wing Township
on: 2016-05-20 22:30:14

Identified a colony of these today in my tree line. Super excited to make jam and other things!

Posted by: Andrea - Duluth, Park Point
on: 2016-07-27 16:18:04

Found while hiking at the end of the Park Point sand bar. I have also see it in Jay Cooke State forest.

Posted by: Cheryl A - Randolph, Mn. Southern Dakota County
on: 2017-06-14 01:08:57

Found these last year along side of the house on the north side. They really spread this year. I was really hoping they were ginseng. A lady I work with helped identify them this spring.

Posted by: Kristi B - Hubbard County
on: 2018-06-05 10:12:33

We have a beautiful carpet of these under a large spruce tree.

Posted by: Sara Betker - Breezy Point
on: 2018-06-12 22:57:03

This spring I have lots of them in my woods. Thought it might be poison ivy, but a neighbor identified it for me.

Posted by: Erin Frank - Pine River, Cass County
on: 2018-07-22 19:00:39

Found some of these berries up at camp and wanted to know what they were before a camper sampled them! Glad for the ID.

Posted by: Holly - Oak Grove
on: 2019-06-02 17:02:31

I found just one of these in my yard by the Rum River! Cute little firecrackers, I call them!

Posted by: Brad Swanson - Pine River, MN
on: 2019-06-13 08:11:48

I have a lot of these along my trails on my hunting land.

Posted by: Bonnie Guyer Graham - Scenic State Park
on: 2023-05-25 00:18:48

Saw them emerging in late May with those shiny bronze leaves.

Posted by: Karen Kaehler - Longville
on: 2023-05-31 07:12:54

We have a good sized colony on a small wooded hill down to the lake. They started blooming today. Bumblebees will often visit them.

Posted by: Robin Fox - NW St Paul
on: 2023-06-16 11:30:20

The smallish colony I've had for decades is now growing rapidly, overtaking many other ephemerals. Spreading by rhizomes, which are tough to uproot. So far nothing has worked for control.

Posted by: Patience Popovich - Hazelton
on: 2023-08-09 07:38:51

This is the woods on my property which is between Garrison and Aitkin. It is quite prolific and makes for good ground cover.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.