Aralia hispida

Bristly Sarsaparilla

Bristly Sarsaparilla, Jap Lake, BWCAW; Photo © 2001 by Earl J.S. Rook
Bristly Sarsaparilla
Jap Lake, BWCAW
Photo © 2001 by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Aralia, origin uncertain
  • hispida from the Latin hispidus, "rough, shaggy, bristly"
  • Sarsaparilla, from a. Sp. zarzaparrilla, f. zarza (? a. Basque sartzia) bramble; the latter part is said in A. Matthioli Comm. in Dioscoridem (1565) 184 to be *parilla, dim. of parra vine, the sarsaparilla being a climbing plant, and its berries having some resemblance to grapes. The word appears, with etymologizing corruption after It. salso adj. salt, in It. salsapariglia (whence the forms), F. salsepareille (whence the form).
  • Other common names include Aralia, Bristle-stem Sarsaparilla, Wild Elder, American Dwarf Elder (UK), Salsepareille


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae
        • Order Apiales
          • Family Araliaceae, the Ginsengs
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 29374


  • A ¼, ½, ¾,  º, é
  • A native, dioecious, perennial forb.
  • Leaves bipinnate; leaflets oblongovate, acute serrate,
  • Stem 1' - 2' tall, lower part woody and shrubby, beset with sharp bristles, upper part leafy and branching.
  • Rhizomes
  • Roots
  • Flowers greenish-white, many simple umbels, globose, axillary and terminal on long peduncles, has bunches of dark-coloured nauseous berries, flowers June to September.
    • Sepals 
    • Petals 
    • Stamens 
    • Pistils
    • Ovary superior (within blossom) inferior (below flower) 
  • Fruits black, round, one-celled, has three irregular-shaped seeds.
  • Seed
  • a perennial plant, with a low stem, from 1 to 2 feet high, the lower part woody and shrubby, thickly beset with sharp stiff bristles, the upper part herbaceous and branching. The leaves are bipinnate, and composed of oblong-ovate, acute, cut-serrate leaflets. The flowers, which are are arranged in numerous umbels which are simple, globose, axillary, and terminal, on long peduncles, and followed by bunches of dark-colored, nauseous berries. It flowers from June to September. The whole plant exhales an unpleasant odor.
  • Perennial herb or semi-woody shrub to 1 m. from a stout rhizome

    The whole plant smells unpleasantly. The bark is used medicinally, but the root is the more active.


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from all other plants by distinctive leaf, flower umbel, and fruit cluster.
  • Field Marks


  • Saskatchewan to Newfoundland, south to NE Minnesota, Wisconsin, NE Illinois, northern Indiana and Ohio, eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.


  • fields, hedges, rocky places, and along the road-sides.
  • A great variety of open to semi-open habitats, usually in sandy or sterile soils; often in extremely disturbed situations; clearings, rocky woods, tops of cliffs, sand dunes, recently-burned areas, even freshly bulldozed early



  • Trees: 
  • Shrubs:
  • Herbs: 
  • Ground Covers: 
  • Mammals
  • Birds:




  • Sexually by seed
  • Flowers 
  • Assexually by


  • By rhizome division,


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Light:
    • Soil:
    • Water:
    • Spacing:
    • Fertilization
  • Size 12"-18"W x 12"-18"H
  • Growth rate 
  • Good for 
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries


  • Den Virtuella Floren, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Stockholm


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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004