Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)
|Also known as:|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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.
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.
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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Photos by K. Chayka taken at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Lake County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lake County.
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