Aralia racemosa

Description & Overview

Is it a perennial? Is it a shrub? No, it’s Spikenard! This native, shrubby perennial thrives in the shady, moist, fertile soils of forest floors but can also tolerate rock and clay. It has beautiful, large, compound green leaves with showy white flower racemes that are followed by enticing, purple berry clusters that the birds love. This ornamental plant is a great option for someone with a shady yard.

May also be known as American Spikenard or Life of Man.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 2-3 feet
Mature Spread: 2-3 feet
Growth Rate: Fast
Growth Form: Perennial
Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Moist, Rich Soil. Tolerates Rock and Clay Soils
Flower: White Panicles
Bloom Period: June-August
Foliage: Smooth, Large, Compound, Green
Fall Color: None
Fruit Notes: Purple Drupe

Suggested Uses:

Spikenard is a good option for those with limited space. Many native shrubs, like ninebark and elderberry, can reach 8 or 10 feet or more. In fertile soils, Spikenard can grow 5 or 6 feet tall in the spring and provide interest for the whole growing season. Winter dieback keeps it from becoming overgrown. As such, every year is a new beginning. It prunes itself!

Spikenard makes a great specimen plant due to its large leaves, showy flowers, and fruit. It would also be perfect for a shade garden, woodland garden, or native garden or can be used to simply naturalize an area.

Can be used as a screen to block A/C units, utility boxes, wellheads, or septic caps.

Wildlife Value:

Spikenard’s flowers are pollinated by bees. Birds and bears alike eat their berries.

This plant seems to grow rather well in areas in which deer are known to forage.

Maintenance Tips:

If planted in rich soil Spikenard will grow quickly after an establishment period. If very happy it will SLOWLY spread through seeds and rhizomes.

At home in moist, well-drained soils, needs water during the establishment period and during prolonged periods of dryness. Especially if planted in a site with direct, hot afternoon sun.


While Spikenard has no fatal issues, aphids, mealybugs, and leaf spots can all cause aesthetic issues.

Likely deer resistant.

Leaf Lore:

Name: Species name comes from Latin word, racemosus, which means flowers in racemes.

Historical Uses: American Spikenard is in the Ginseng family.

Roots have a liquorice-like flavor and are used to flavor tea and root beer. They are sometimes used as a sarsaparilla substitute. The tender shoots can be cooked and eaten. The fruit is technically edible both raw and cooked although very small. A lot would need to be collected. May be best left for wildlife.

Root poultice is medicinally used for many conditions including but not limited to infections, burns, ulcers, swelling, and eczema.

Companion Plants:

Other forest floor plants such as Giant Solomon’s Seal, Woodland Aster, Bigleaf Aster, and Zig Zag Goldenrod would be found in its natural environment along with shade-providing trees like Sugar Maple and Bur Oak.

johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32