Aralia nudicaulis (commonly wild sarsaparilla, false sarsaparilla, shot bush, small spikenard, wild liquorice, and rabbit root) is a flowering plant of northern and eastern North America which reaches a height of 30–60 cm (12–24 in) with creeping underground stems.
In the spring the underground stems produce compound leaves that are large and finely toothed. Tiny white flowers, typically in three, globe-shaped clusters 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) wide, are produced on tall scapes that grow about the same height as the leaves. These bloom from May to July and develop into purple-black edible berries. The leaves go dormant in summer before the fruits ripen. The berries taste a little spicy and sweet.
The stem of the plant grows straight up from the ground and divides into a whorl of 3 stems which branch up and out, each forming 3 to 7 (most often 5) pinnately compound leaflets; leaflets ovate, acute, serrate, green. Technically, all the leaflets on one plant are considered to be one entire leaf, and the stems that connect the leaflets are called rachis; this arrangement is called doubly compound. In some cases some of the leaflets are further completely subdivided, forming a triply compound pattern.
The roots have been used as substitutes for true Sarsaparilla (Smilax sp.) in herbal medicine.
This plant is so common in certain ecologies that it is an indicator species for these Eastern Forests of North America: Northern Hardwood Forest, Beech-Maple Forest, and Oak-Hickory Forest. Also common in the Interior Cedar Hemlock forest ecosystem in central and southern British Columbia.
Because it sometimes grows with groups of 3 leaflets, it can be mistaken for poison ivy; the way to tell the difference is that Wild Sarsaparilla lacks a woody base and has fine teeth along the edges of the leaves.
- Dickinson, T.; Metsger, G.; Hull, J.; and Dickinson, R. (2004) The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario. Toronto:Royal Ontario Museum, p. 140.
- Thomas A. Naegele, DO from his 1970s book Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Great lakes
- Peterson, Roger Tory; McKenny, Margaret (1968). A Field Guide to Wildflowers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-18325-1.
- A Field Guide to Eastern Forests; 1988, 1998; John C. Kricher; Easton Press; Houghton Mifflin Company.
- The Biology of Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans) Archived October 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Nature North