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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.