Aralia racemosa

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: American spikenard 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Araliaceae
Native Range: North America
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Drought


Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Perhaps best in part shade. Prefers moist, fertile, humusy loams, but tolerates a wide range of soils including rocky and clayey ones. Best sited in areas sheltered from strong winds to help protect the large compound leaves. Easily grown from seed, division or root cuttings. Plants will slowly spread over time by self-seeding and creeping rhizomes to form thickets.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Aralia racemosa, commonly called American spikenard, is a rhizomatous, shrubby-looking, soft-stemmed, herbaceous perennial of the Ginseng family that is native to moist rich woods from Quebec to Manitoba south to Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Georgia. In Missouri, it is typically found on wooded slopes and ravines, shaded moist ledges, and bluffs in the northern and eastern parts of the State and in the Ozark Mountains, but is absent from the unglaciated prairie regions in west central and southwestern Missouri south of the Missouri River (Steyermark).

Glabrous, freely branching, dark maroon to near black stems rise from large aromatic roots to 3-5' tall (infrequently to 10') bearing few but very large 2-3 pinnate compound leaves (to 2 1/2' long) each of which is divided and subdivided into 9-21 coarse oval-rounded leaflets (each to 2-6" long) with toothed margins, cordate bases and pointed tips. Small but numerous umbels of tiny greenish-white flowers (to 1/8" across) bloom in long upright terminal but sometimes axillary panicles (each to 12-18" long) in early to mid-summer (June to August). Flowers are followed by dense hanging clusters of basically inedible berries (drupes to 1/4" diameter) which mature to dark purple. Berries are attractive to birds. Thick roots have been used to flavor teas and as an ingredient in root beer. A poultice made from the roots was formerly used for a variety of medicinal purposes including treatment of infections, burns, skin irritations, ulcers, and swellings.

Genus name comes from the Latinization of the old French-Canadian name of aralie.

Specific epithet from the Latin word racemosus meaning flowers in racemes.


No serious insect or disease problems. Susceptible to leaf spots. Aphids and mealybugs may appear. Watch for spider mites. Handling bark and roots may cause allergic skin reactions.


Excellent as a specimen or in small groups to showcase the 2-3 pinnate leaves, large umbellate flower panicles and clusters of fall fruit. Woodland gardens, sundappled shade gardens, naturalized areas, wild gardens and native plant gardens.