Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for American Ginseng - Panax quinquefolius   L.
Members of Araliaceae:
Only member of Panax in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Apiales » Family Araliaceae
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DistributionThroughout the Mountains and Piedmont foothills; present over most of the remainder of the Piedmont, though apparently absent from the extreme northeastern region and also some southeastern counties. Ranges east to Wake County, and also a disjunct record from Martin County in the central Coastal Plain (if still present).

This is a widespread species, ranging from ME and MN (and adjacent Canada) south to southern AL and OK -- largely being absent on the Coastal Plain.
AbundanceDespite heavy collecting pressure, it is infrequent to fairly common in the Mountains, though certainly is less numerous now than formerly. It has strongly declined in the Piedmont due to collecting pressure and is now mostly rare to uncommon in this province, except very rare to absent in some eastern areas. Extremely rare into the Coastal Plain. Owing to its popularity in the medicinal trade and the requirements of a permit to collect the species, it remains a Watch List species, monitored both by the NC Plant Conservation Program and NCNHP.
HabitatThis is a species of rich hardwood forests, though not in the richest places (i.e., not a circumneutral soil specialist). It occurs in Rich Cove Forests, Boulderfield Forests, Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forests, and the Intermediate variant of Basic Mesic Forests, among other forest types. It is generally absent in the Piedmont in true Basic Mesic Forests (i.e., the Rich variant).
PhenologyBlooms in May and June, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis is a rather familiar species to montane biologists, though it requires much searching in the Piedmont to find it. It has an erect stem, to about 1.5 feet tall, with 3 leaves coming off a single node, and each is palmately divided into 5 serrated leaflets, of different sizes. The 2 lateral ones are small, but the middle 3 are fairly large and obovate (and often with squared-off bases), about 4-5 inches long and 2-3 inches wide, quite resembling a leaf of a Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) or Shagbark Hickory (C. ovata). From the end of the stem, between the leaflets, is the rather small umbel of white to greenish-white flowers, about 1-inch across, typically on a stalk of 1-2 inches, but often hidden beneath the leaves in some individuals. By midsummer, the drupes ("berries") are visible, and each is bright red and about 2/5-inch across. Beginners will have trouble with a search image for finding the species, as several species with 5 leaflets, such as Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and seedling hickories are many times more numerous than this special species. As a reminder, be very careful who you tell where you have located a population, as there are numerous unscrupulous collectors out there; you may well find that next year, your population has disappeared if you "spread the word".
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Usually simply named as "Ginseng", but Panax trifolius is named as Dwarf Ginseng, and thus this website will use a modifier word to distinguish the two -- as do a number of other references.
State RankS3S4
Global RankG3G4
State StatusW1
US Status
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
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B.A. SorriePhoto taken at Paint Rock Preserve, Jackson County, AL, 2018. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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