Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Wild Sarsaparilla - Aralia nudicaulis   L.
Members of Araliaceae:
Members of Aralia with account distribution info or public map:
Google Images
Section 6 » Order Apiales » Family Araliaceae
Show/Hide Synonym
DistributionThroughout the Mountains, and possibly the upper reaches of the Piedmont; disjunct to a few sites in the eastern Piedmont (Orange and Durham counties). As the species occurs widely over the VA Piedmont, more records for the northern Piedmont of NC are to be expected.

This is a Northern species, ranging across Canada and south to PA and IA, and southward mainly in the Appalachians to northern GA.
AbundanceFrequent to common in most of the Mountains; extremely rare in the northeastern Piedmont (extant in Orange County as of 2003).
HabitatThis is a characteristic species of upland montane hardwood forests, typically in dry to mesic, and often rocky, sites. It grows mostly in the middle and upper elevations in that region.
PhenologyBlooms from May to July, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a rather unique species, different from others in the genus. It has a separate stalk just for the flower clusters, reaching about 1.5 feet tall, and a separate stalk just for the "leaf" -- a stem with three "leaves" branching from the same node, and each one has about 5 leaflets, each one elliptical to lanceolate and about 2 inches long and 1-inch wide, with serrated margins. (Some references say this is just one tripartite leaf, with each of the 3 divisions broken into 5 pinnate sub-leaflets.) The flowering stem, usually held below the level of the "leaf", contains several rounded umbels at the end, each with tiny white to greenish white flowers. Each umbel is "ball-shaped" and about 1-inch across. Thus, this is a striking plant, with the rounded flower clusters on a single naked stalk, and the divided leaflets on a separate stalk.
Taxonomic CommentsNone, though Weakley (2018) suggests that it "probably warrants removal to a separate, monotypic genus".

Other Common Name(s)None. Remember than the name is pronounced as "sas-pa-RILL-a"!
State RankS4
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFACU link
USACE-empFACU link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieSame data. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
B.A. SorrieMixed woods, northern MI, early June 2018. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
Select a source
Select an occurrence type