Aralia nudicaulis - L.
Wild Sarsaparilla
Other Common Names: wild sarsaparilla
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Aralia nudicaulis L. (TSN 29376)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.143274
Element Code: PDARA02040
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Ginseng Family
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Apiales Araliaceae Aralia
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Aralia nudicaulis
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 13May2016
Global Status Last Changed: 31Jan2000
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: This species is fairly common to locally quite abundant throughout a wide range in North America. There are thousands of populations in Ontario alone. However, the status of this species should be monitored periodically due to significant threats posed by habitat alterations and some demand for the medicinal herb trade.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5?
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (07Oct2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Colorado (S2), Connecticut (SNR), Delaware (S5), District of Columbia (SNR), Georgia (S2?), Idaho (SNR), Illinois (SNR), Indiana (SNR), Iowa (S4), Kentucky (S3?), Maine (SNR), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (SNR), Michigan (SNR), Minnesota (SNR), Missouri (S2), Montana (S4), Nebraska (S3), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (S5), New York (S5), North Carolina (S4), North Dakota (SNR), Ohio (SNR), Pennsylvania (S5), Rhode Island (SNR), South Dakota (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Vermont (SNR), Virginia (S5), Washington (SNR), West Virginia (S4), Wisconsin (SNR), Wyoming (S2)
Canada Alberta (S5), British Columbia (S4), Manitoba (S5), New Brunswick (S5), Newfoundland Island (S5), Northwest Territories (SNR), Nova Scotia (S5), Ontario (S5), Prince Edward Island (S5), Quebec (S5), Saskatchewan (S5), Yukon Territory (S2S3)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Throughout much of Canada, and in the U.S. from Maine south to the mountains of northern Georgia, and northwestwards to Washington (USDA-NRCS 1999). Ten extant locations are known from Missouri (Missouri Department of Conservation). It is reported from four counties in Kentucky (Kentucky Natural Heritage Program). It is found in all counties in Maine (Maine Natural Areas Program). In Indiana this species is found throughout the northern part of the state and in one location in the southeast (Indiana Natural Heritage Data Center). It is disjunct in Colorado and Nebraska, where it survives in limited mesic habitats as a Pleistocene relict (Weber and Wittmann 1996, Nebraska Natural Heritage Program). In Manitoba, it occurs northwards to near latitude 57 degrees 30 minutes (Manitoba Conservation Data Centre). A. nudicaulis is apparently restricted to North America.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Many thousands of populations are extant rangewide. Many thousands of populations are reported from Ontario, where this species is very common (Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre) and from New York (New York Natural Heritage Program. Many more than 100 populations are reported from Manitoba (Manitoba Conservation Data Centre). It is reportedly "very common" in Maine (Maine Natural Areas Program). It is widespread in Michigan (Michigan Natural Features Inventory). Approximately 500 populations of this species are known from British Columbia (British Columbia Conservation Data Centre). Ten extant populations are reported from Missouri (Missouri Department of Conservation). At least 15 extant occurrences are reported from Wyoming, most of which are in the Black Hills and the northern Laramie Range (Wyoming Natural Diversity Database). Approximately 30 occurrences of this species are known from Nebraska (Nebraska Natural Heritage Program). Specific numbers of populations are not available in many states and provinces where it is particularly abundant, such as Illinois (Illinois Natural Heritage Database Program), Idaho (Idaho Conservation Data Center), and Indiana (Indiana Natural Heritage Data Center). The plant is not rare in New Hampshire (New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory).

Population Size Comments: This species is extremely abundant and widespread throughout southern and central Ontario, where it is one of the most common woodland plants (Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre). In New York, it is reported to be one of the most common spring wildflowers in the state (New York Natural Heritage Program).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: An individual within the U.S. herbal medicinal industry states that trade in this plant is minor, and believes that no one is cultivating it (McGuffin pers. comm.). It is the root that is harvested.

Some small collection is occurring in Missouri (Phyllis Higman pers. comm.). It is reportedly collected in Illinois and sold to a dealer in Missouri (Bill McClain pers. comm.). There are currently no reports that individual populations have been negatively impacted or extirpated due to collection for the plant trade. Small, disjunct populations could be threatened in the future if harvest of wild populations of this species increases.

There is no evidence of wild-collection in Manitoba (Manitoba Conservation Data Centre).

It is reported that only small quantities are currently being collected at present by small companies selling the tincture (Robyn Klein pers. comm.). Specific information on the quantities collected is not available at this time.

This species may be conservative throughout its range (i.e. not especially tolerant of habitat alteration, damage, or decline), as it is known to be conservative at least in the Chicago area (Swink and Wilhelm 1994). Members of the Araliaceae are quite long lived, and individual genets of this species have been aged at 30 years (Robyn Klein pers. comm.). To the extent that it is conservative, this species is threatened throughout most of its range, wherein its habitat, from place to place, is subject to intensive logging, high deer densities, disrupted hydrological cycles, suppression of fires, and sprawl and development. The regrowth of forested lands in eastern North America could ensure suitable habitat for this species in locations where, for a period immediately following logging, habitat had no longer existed. Fire suppression may be allowing cedar (presumably Tamarix spp.) to encroach on habitat in Nebraska. Cattle grazing may also be impacting this species in Nebraska (Gerry Steinauer pers. comm.). Logging activities are recognized as a threat in Manitoba (Manitoba Conservation Data Centre).

A related species, Aralia racemosa, is included on the United Plant Savers "To Watch" List. This list consists of "herbs which are broadly used in commerce and which, due to over-harvest, loss of habitat, or by the nature of their innate rareness or sensitivity are either at risk or have significantly declined in numbers within their current range." (United Plant Savers 2000)

There are no reports of cultivation at this time. As with other members of the Araliaceae such as Panax species (ginseng), the life history characteristics of this species do not lend it to cultivation. Because it grows very slowly, crop yields would probably be very low and would take too long to grow (Robyn Klein pers. comm.).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Throughout much of Canada, and in the U.S. from Maine south to the mountains of northern Georgia, and northwestwards to Washington (USDA-NRCS 1999). Ten extant locations are known from Missouri (Missouri Department of Conservation). It is reported from four counties in Kentucky (Kentucky Natural Heritage Program). It is found in all counties in Maine (Maine Natural Areas Program). In Indiana this species is found throughout the northern part of the state and in one location in the southeast (Indiana Natural Heritage Data Center). It is disjunct in Colorado and Nebraska, where it survives in limited mesic habitats as a Pleistocene relict (Weber and Wittmann 1996, Nebraska Natural Heritage Program). In Manitoba, it occurs northwards to near latitude 57 degrees 30 minutes (Manitoba Conservation Data Centre). A. nudicaulis is apparently restricted to North America.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SD, TN, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
Canada AB, BC, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
KY Bell (21013), Harlan (21095), Letcher (21133), Lewis (21135)*, Pulaski (21199), Rockcastle (21203), Rowan (21205)*, Whitley (21235)
MO Callaway (29027), Jefferson (29099), Lincoln (29113), Montgomery (29139), Pike (29163), Ralls (29173), Warren (29219)
NE Brown (31017), Cherry (31031), Dakota (31043)*, Dixon (31051)*, Keya Paha (31103), Knox (31107)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Tugaloo (03060102)+, Upper Chattahoochee (03130001)+
05 Ohio Brush-Whiteoak (05090201)+*, Licking (05100101)+*, Lower Kentucky (05100205)+, Upper Cumberland (05130101)+, Upper Cumberland-Lake Cumberland (05130103)+
06 Upper Little Tennessee (06010202)+, Powell (06010206)+, Hiwassee (06020002)+, Ocoee (06020003)+
07 The Sny (07110004)+, Salt (07110007)+, Cuivre (07110008)+, Meramec (07140102)+
10 Middle Niobrara (10150004)+, Lewis and Clark Lake (10170101)+, Lower Missouri-Moreau (10300102)+, Lower Missouri (10300200)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: Aralia nudicaulis is a colony-forming, rhizomatous perennial herb found in wooded portions of North America. Its leaves and flower clusters arise from the ground, as this plant has no aboveground stems. The leaves are compound, and bear about a dozen leaflets each. Small greenish flowers occur in umbels close to the ground (Gleason and Cronquist 1963, Great Plains Flora Association 1986).
Habitat Comments: A. nudicaulis occurs in woods, from moist to dry (Gleason and Cronquist 1963). In the Chicago area, Swink and Wilhelm (1994) describe it from habitats ranging from moist to dry and from quite acidic to quite alkaline, the only commonality of which being some level of tree cover. In Missouri it is known from dry to moist deciduous forests, coniferous forests, and mixed woods, and also in swamps, and on stabilized dunes (Michigan Natural Features Inventory). In Colorado it is found infrequently in cool ravines of the montane and eastern foothills (Weber and Wittmann 1996b).
Economic Attributes
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Economically Important Genus: Y
Commercial Importance: Indigenous crop, Minor cash crop
Economic Uses: FOOD, MEDICINE/DRUG
Production Method: Wild-harvested
Economic Comments: As indicated by the common name, "wild sarsaparilla," it was used as a root beer flavoring (Fernald and Kinsey 1943, Niering 1979). Native Americans also used it as a diuretic (Weiner 1980). The roots are reputed to have medicinal value and are used to make teas (Phyllis Higman pers. comm.). This species is collected on a limited basis by local herbalists as a substitute for other members of the ginseng family in herbal tinctures (Robyn Klein pers. comm.). It is reported to have much the same medicinal properties as Panax ginseng.
Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Jan2000
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Susan Spackman, David Anderson, and Steve Thomas (1/00); rev. Eric Nielsen (1/00)

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Culver, D. R. and J. M. Lemly. 2013a. Field Guide to Colorado's Wetland Plants. Colorado Natural Heritage Program. Colorado State University. 694 pp.

  • Fernald, M.L. and A.C. Kinsey. 1958. Edible wild plants of eastern North America. Harper and Row. NY. NY.

  • Gleason, H.A., and A. Cronquist. 1963. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. D. Van Nostrand Company, New York, NY. 810 pp.

  • Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.

  • Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence. 1392 pp.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Meades, S.J. & Hay, S.G; Brouillet, L. 2000. Annotated Checklist of Vascular Plants of Newfoundland and Labrador. Memorial University Botanical Gardens, St John's NF. 237pp.

  • Niering, W.A. and N.C. Olmstead. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York. 887 pp.

  • Swink, F., and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region. Morton Arboretum. Lisle, Illinois.

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 1999. November 3-last update. The PLANTS database. Online. Available: http://plants.usda.gov/plants. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • Weber, W.A., and R.C. Wittmann. 1996b. Colorado flora: Western slope. Univ. Press of Colorado, Niwot, Colorado. 496 pp.

  • Weber, William A. and Ronald C. Wittmann. 1996. Colorado Flora: Eastern Slope.

  • Weiner, M.A. 1980. Earth Medicine Earth Food. Ballantine Books, New York. 230 pp.

  • Weiner, M.A. 1980. Earth Medicine Earth Food. Ballantine Books, New York. 230 pp.

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