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Aralia nudicaulis

Wild sarsaparilla

Plant Details

Common Name: Wild sarsaparilla
Family: Apiaceae (carrot family)
Mature Height: 6" - 2'
Sun Requirement: Part shade to shade, Shade
Moisture Requirement: Dry - medium, Medium - moist
Flower Color: White
Bloom Time: Spring (May or earlier), Early summer (June - July)
Seed Collection Date: Early summer (June - July), Mid summer (July - August)

Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis Wild sarsaparilla

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Aralia is Latinized, possibly for the Iroquois or French-Canadian name of the plant; nudicaulis is Latin for naked stalk.

Native Habitat


Garden Uses

Wild sarsparilla is a charming and adaptable spreading understory for a woodland garden. It typically forms a loose colony from a shallow rhizome, with the above ground parts spaced widely. It can become aggressive in some garden situations.


This low-growing perennial, deciduous sub-shrub (1' to 2' ft tall) spreads by rhizomes in the woodland understory to form a loose colony. It displays distinctive spherical clusters of tiny white flowers that ripen to blue black or purple berries in early summer. Compound leaves with 3 terminal leaflets, are bronze green as they emerge in the spring and are often confused with poison ivy when young.

Leaves and Stems

Thin, smooth stems arise upright from the plant base before branching to support either leaves or flower clusters. Each compound green leaf is made up of at least 3 discreet leaflets in a whorl at the stem tip, and may be further divided to 5-7 leaflets (pinnately compound). Each leaflet is 3" to 5" long, 2" across, ovoid, and sharp-pointed with serrated edges. The serrations make it easy to differentiate from smooth-edged poison ivy. Leaf stems are typically longer than flower stems, often hiding the flowers from view. Leaves change from bronze in spring, to green in summer, to yellow or reddish in autumn.


Up to 40 tiny (1/8") white to greenish white flowers, each with 5 backward-curving petals and 5 protruding stamens, join on small stalks (pedicels) to form spherical flower clusters (umbels) 1" to 2" in diameter. Each plant typically develops 1 to 3 flower clusters on a stem.


Fleshy green fruits, each less than 1/4" in diameter, ripen to dark purple. Each fruit contain an average of 5 small seeds.

Animal Associates

Berries are a food source for a variety of mammals, including bears, as well as insects and birds. Native bees, flies and beetles visit flowers.


Seeds should be cold stratified. Seedlings mature slowly. Rhizomes can be divided when the plant is dormant.

Ethnobotanical Uses

The rhizomes have a sweet, aromatic taste and have been used in place of sassafras to make homemade root beer; however, both are now classified as carcinogenic in high doses.

Garden Location

Entry Garden, Performance Hall Garden, Teaching Garden, South Woods, North Woods (see garden map)

Anecdotal Information

The fruits are quick to disappear after they ripen.


Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 

Minnesota Wildflowers 

Native Plant Trust 

Adirondacks Forever Wild

Plant Profile by Kate O'Dell