Araliaceae (Ginseng Family)
General - stemless perennial; a single leaf (up to 50 cm high) rises above the short flower stalk, both produced from a stout woody rhizome.
Leaves - a single, long-stalked compound, basal leaf divided into 3 groups of 3-5 leaflets; leaflets elongated lance- to egg-shaped, finely toothed on the margins.
Flowers - numerous, in 2 - 7 (usually 3) umbrella or ball-shaped clusters on top of a leafless stalk; individual flowers very small, with 5 greenish-white petals; naked, flowering stems hidden under leaf; appearing early summer.
Fruit -berries, nearly black when ripe, in a cluster; edible but not palatable; ripening mid-summer.
Common; occurring across a broad range of forest habitats and soil/site conditions, especially in dry to moist hardwoods and mixed-woods, less often in coniferous forests and on moist/wet sites.
The rhizome was used by North American Indians both for medicine and as food. Wine was made from the berries by European settlers and a form of root beer was made from the rhizome. In the 1800's, sarsaparilla was popular as a spring tonic.
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