Be The First On Your Block to Grow American Spikenard!

Here’s something new for your shady garden: American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa).

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This is a big woodland perennial native to a large swath of Eastern and Central North America, from Quebec to Manitoba and from Georgia to Texas.

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American Spikenard has been growing in my garden for two summers and so far I am pleased with it. It is a big plant growing up to 5′ tall, though mine is under 3′ this year. It has dark stems and bold, heart-shaped leaflets.

A closer look at American Spikenard flowers.
A closer look at American Spikenard flowers.

In mid-summer it has interesting-looking racemes of tiny greenish white flowers. While the individual flowers may not look like much to most people, they do attract a variety of native bees, including some really tiny ones.

American Spikenard berries
American Spikenard berries

Later in the summer there are berries that I think are extremely ornamental as they turn from green to purple. The berries are attractive to birds.

A closer look
A closer look

A virtue of American Spikenard is that it can take over after ephemeral spring flowers have faded away. Also, it is supposed to be quite adaptable as to soil. It likes moist, fertile woodlands best, but a variety of sources say it will grow (less imposingly) in dryer and leaner locations.

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I grow pots and pots of Marigolds (Tagetes patula) and Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), so I am not a plant snob. However, this plant is really underused, and there is an innocent pleasure in growing an unfamiliar plant that will excite questions from your gardening friends and neighbors – as happened with American Spikenard when my garden was on the Wild Ones tour.

This provides one last reason, if you need one, to give this woodland wildling a try.

46 Comments on “Be The First On Your Block to Grow American Spikenard!

  1. I wish there was a way to quantify dry shade so that each plant could be given a rating of how dry they like it. What’s dry to one plant is moist to another. I love this big guy but don’t think I have enough moisture to keep him truly happy.

  2. I grow Aralia californica, it’s west coast relative, and I love it! It also does well in dry shade, under my Douglas firs. I’ve had it for 5 years, and it gets about 5-6 feet tall every summer. The berries are so dark purple, they’re nearly black.

  3. I think I’ve seen this at the Arboretum. I like the berries, and it sounds like the flowers attract some interesting native pollinators. I will give it some consideration. Thanks!

  4. One of the things I love about native plants — there are SO MANY of them, and so many that are underused as well. I guess gardeners are just attracted to exotics, not always the best choice as most of us have already discovered. I have not grown this one in my home garden but it does grow on property I own in Wisconsin. I usually see it at the base of a road cut or ravine where it might pick up additional moisture. It is a delight to see for sure!

  5. How unusual! It’s good to get anything growing in shade, so a pretty plant with nectar then berries is a real plus, for you and the pollinators!xxx

  6. Thanks for the introduction. I think I have heard of this, but I have never seen it. I love it, and I appreciate the need to use more of our lovely natives. I think it would be perfect for my Alabama woodland!

  7. The Sputnik-like flowers remind me of Fatsia japonica, which I am hot to introduce for just that reason.

  8. I don’t think it demands a limestone soil. I grew spikenard in my Toronto garden, on the near-neutral Toronto clay,where the plants seemed to be fine, but I collected the seeds from an area around a friend’s cottage, where spikenard grew very abundantly. The cottage was north of Parry Sound on very acidic soil: blueberries, blue bead lilies, and pink lady slipper orchids were also abundant there. The spikenards were certainly well behaved. The seedlings are slow to get going and the plants seem to be tap-rooted and stay put. I never saw any volunteers in my Toronto garden. I am starting some more spikenard seedlings for my much larger country garden in western Quebec. It is a fine plant and we want to grow lots more berries for birds.

  9. Now that is a NEAT plant + it attracts pollinators of a different size-LOVE IT! Will be looking this one up-thank you for sharing:-)

    • I couldn’t find out much about that. Spikenard is a plant which was used to make fragrant oils in biblical times. That Spikenard comes from the Himalayas, is in a different genus and bears little resemblence to American Spikenard. However, American Spikenard roots are supposed to be fragrant and have been used to make a kind of root beer – so maybe that is the connection.

  10. I just discovered American Spikenard in a recent visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and knew immediately that I had to have it! When I visited my favorite shade nursery last week, I inquired about it. He didn’t have any in stock but will have it again in the spring, when I plan to add it to my serenity garden, where it will replace some Actea that have never been happy there.

  11. I like the berries on this plant. While at the Bartram’s Garden In PA, they had some very mature Aralia racemosa. It is a nice plant, but a very vigorous grower. Watch for the suckers or it will spread to form a thicket.

  12. Thanks for all the great pictures, I’ll add this one to my list! (I wanted to ‘like’ this post but I can’t see anywhere on your blog where I can click ‘Like’ or click on ‘Rate’ this post with 5 stars.. am I missing something obvious?) Thanks!

  13. Pingback: First day of summer | Overlook Circle

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