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Aralia hispida

Aralia hispida Vent.

 

Bristly Sarsaparilla

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderApialesIncludes carrots, celery, parsley, and ivy
FamilyAraliaceaeIvy family
GenusAraliaLatinized version of French Canadian or American Indian name aralie
Specieshispida“Fine-hairy, rough, shaggy, bristly”

About plant names...

Bristly sarsaparilla is native to eastern North America. The species name, hispida, means “rough,” referring to the bristles on the lower stems.

Identification: This unpleasant-smelling perennial is 6-30" (15-76 cm) in height, upright, except when it is bowed under the weight of its copious berries. The lower stems have bristles. Leaves are twice pinnately divided. (Pinnate means “with many opposing pairs of leaves,” like the veins of a feather. Bipinnate means “pairs of smaller pairs.” Twice pinnately divided means “a pair of pinnate branches.” You can see this clearly in Photo 11.) Leaves are clustered on the lower portions of the plants. They are serrated (sharp toothed), oblong to elliptic, up to 3" (8.3 cm) long.

The flowers form umbels, clusters that are almost perfectly round. Each individual flower is on a tiny ½" (1.3 cm) stem that emerges from a central point, forming delicate spheres of cream-colored or greenish flowers perched atop long stems. Each flower is about ¼" (6.3 mm) in size, with five petals. They appear in June through September. The flowers become distinctive blue-black berry clusters. Bristly sarsaparilla grows in rocky or sandy soils that are low in nutrients.

Wild sarsaparilla is sometimes confused with “real” sarsaparilla, even though the plants bear no resemblance to each other and do not overlap in range. Here are some other possible sources of confusion:

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) Short plants often found in North American forests, with bare stems topped with leaves in a flat plane, and flowers nestled underneath the leaves.
Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) A close relative, but larger and with stems that are covered with bristly hairs; stems of A. nudicaulis are smooth.
Sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis and other species) A vine native to Jamaica, reaching up to 50' (15 m) in length, with long underground roots that have been used in some soft drinks and for various ailments.
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) An unrelated but highly toxic Skull & Crossbones plant that is vaguely similar in appearance to wild sarsaparilla and has leaves in groups of three.
Australian sarsaparilla tree (Alphitonia petriei) A fast-growing evergreen tree with bark and leaves that smell like liniment when rubbed.

Edibility: Not edible. The berries will make you sick.

Online References:

Aralia hispida at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium

Aralia hispida at Minnesota Wildflowers

Aralia hispida on Earl J.S. Rook's Flora, Fauna, Earth, and Sky ... The Natural History of the Northwoods

Aralia hispida on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants

Aralia hispida on www.nswildflora.ca

Aralia hispida at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Aralia hispida on CalPhotos

Aralia hispida on the New England Wildflower Society’s GoBotany site

References:

Clemants, Steven; Gracie, Carol, Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 316

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

1 · 8/16/2014 · White Mountains, NH
≈ 10 × 7" (25 × 16 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

2 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 8 × 6" (20 × 14 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

3 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 4½ × 7" (11 × 16 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

4 · 9/8/2017 · Bates Land and Blackman Land, Groton Conservation Trust, Groton, MA
≈ 7 × 4" (16 × 11 cm)

Aralia hispida description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 5 Oct 2016.

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Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

5 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 8 × 5" (19 × 12 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

6 · 9/8/2017 · Bates Land and Blackman Land, Groton Conservation Trust, Groton, MA
≈ 3½ × 2½" (8.8 × 7.2 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

7 · 8/16/2014 · White Mountains, NH
≈ 9 × 6" (23 × 16 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

8 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 8 × 5" (19 × 12 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

9 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 10 × 7" (25 × 16 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

10 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 7 × 4½" (16 × 11 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

11 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 8 × 5" (19 × 13 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

12 · 8/16/2014 · White Mountains, NH
≈ 12 × 8" (31 × 21 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

13 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 7 × 4½" (16 × 11 cm)

Aralia hispida (Bristly Sarsaparilla)

14 · 8/10/2013 · Stone Arch Bridge Trail, Near Flat Rock Hill, Dunstable, MA
≈ 8 × 5" (19 × 13 cm)

Range:

About this map...